One of the first Nevada Army National Guard units that deployed to Afghanistan almost nine years ago might be the final one serving overseas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
About 40 men and women from C Company 1-168th Aviation Regiment (GSAB) stood at parade rest Sunday at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Stead listening to a plethora of speakers wishing them good luck. The guardsmen, most of whom who live in Northern Nevada, leave early this morning for two months of advance training at Fort Hood, Texas, before departing to Afghanistan. They'll be there until early 2014. Additional guardsmen from California and Washington will join the Nevada soldiers.
The company, which has undergone several unit designation changes, previously deployed twice to Afghanistan, as well as to Kosovo in the 1990s and to Fort Carson, Colo., in 2004. After the company arrives in Afghanistan, guardsmen will be flying Black Hawk helicopters.
"This will likely be the last unit mobilized in Nevada," said Lt. Col. Rich Ferguson, the Guard's state aviation officer and commander of the company's first deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
The current company commander, Capt. Andrew Wagner of Reno, will deploy for his third time. He last served an overseas mission in Afghanistan in 2009 at Forward Operating Base Shank, about 65 miles southwest of Kabul. A guardsmen for 19 years, Wagner has spent the past eight years with the Nevada Army National Guard.
The company has been assigned to western Afghanistan, but because of the drawdown of U.S. forces from the country, Wagner said, the location could change at any time. Wagner said that once the unit's guardsmen, consisting primarily of aviators and paramedics, learned they'd been tabbed for another deployment, they engaged in as much realistic training as possible. More than half the crew has previously deployed, he said.
"We're ready to go," Wagner said. "We have trained for this for two years."
Because Wagner's flight crews are all trained paramedics, they improve injured soldiers' chance of survival, he said.
"These are skills attained in the civilian world," he said, adding that REMSA (Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority) personnel have assisted guardsmen with medical training.
Chief Warrant Officer 1 Josh Groth of Carson City said this will be his first overseas deployment as a pilot ferrying the injured from the battlefield to medical facilities. He said he has asked pilots who have flown in Afghanistan about flying conditions, the terrain and different missions.
Before transferring to the 168th, Groth spent eight years as a scout for a Nevada Guard company that drilled at the Fallon Armory. The 2002 Carson City High School graduate said he is ready to deploy.
"I feel grateful for the opportunity to serve before everything wraps up," he said.
Likewise, Carson City firefighter Sgt. Jon Pedrini will serve as a flight medic on his first deployment.
"I'm excited and ready to go," he said.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has attended almost every Nevada Guard mobilization and homecoming. The first-term governor, who is the state's commander in chief, lauded the unit's history and said the aviation company will serve a critical evacuation mission.
"Our state and our nation are grateful for your continued service in your active duty and assistance at home," he said.