Before a Nevada Army National Guard aviation unit deployed to Afghanistan last year, Gov. Brian Sandoval gave the unit a signed state flag to take with them to the war-torn country.
Company commander Capt. Michael Bordallo, though, returned the favor at the unit’s official demobilization ceremony Saturday in Reno as Bravo Company, 189th General Support Aviation Battalion presented Nevada’s commander in chief with the same flag that was flown over central Afghanistan in a Chinook CH-47 helicopter during a mission.
Bordallo, who assumed command of the aviation company in 2011 and led more than 40 aviators and crew to their combat deployment in late February 2012, commended the governor for his support and leadership, not only for the aviation company but also for other units that have deployed under his watch.
“It’s truly an honor to serve this unit and the State of Nevada,” Bordallo said during the event, which also served as a Yellow Ribbon ceremony that brought together the guard crews and their families for a day of speakers.
On behalf of the company, Bordallo presented the governor with a large shadowbox constructed in the shape of Nevada and containing the blue Battle Born flag, a certificate from the aviation crew that flew the flag, and a unit photo.
Bordallo also thanked his soldiers for their deployment and to the families that became a source of strength during each day the unit, also known as the Mustangs, served at Forward Operating Base Shank, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul, the capital.
Many soldiers in the company hail from the Carson City area, Lake Tahoe, Fallon and Fernley.
From the time the company arrived in Shank until it left in January, the Mustangs logged more than 8,340 flight hours, ferried 41,780 passengers, carried 8.62 million pounds of equipment and conducted 160 direct assault insertions or missions involving Special Forces personnel.
Sandoval, who addressed the company before it left Reno late last winter, commended the company for its accomplishments. Since the aviators flew over treacherous country with the chance of receiving hostile fire, he said Bravo Company became battle tested.
“You are Battle Born Nevada,” Sandoval said. “You support our communities, your state and your country.”
Sandoval also noted the company’s achievements as the soldiers earned more than 250 awards and 15 combat badges along with advanced pilot qualifications. Sandoval said Bravo Company preserved the standards that all Nevada units possess during their deployments to the theater of operation.
“Thank you to Captain Bordallo for bringing the soldiers home safely and to 1st Sgt. (Don) Gable for your leadership and guidance.”
Both the state’s adjutant general and commander of Army Guard praised the unit’s accomplishments and the governor’s support.
Brig. Gen. William Burks, the adjutant general, said the company’s leadership brought the soldiers home safely and “everything else is extra.” Burks said he visited the Mustangs in October and celebrated his birthday while at Shank.
“It was the best birthday I ever had,” Burks said of the unit’s hospitality.
Burks also acknowledged the deaths of seven Marines who were killed earlier in the week in a live-fire exercise at the Hawthorne Army Depot and then led the Nevada soldiers and their guests in a moment of silence. Burks said training for war can be as dangerous as facing enemy fire.
Brig. Gen. Frank Gonzales, commander of the Army Guard, thanked the governor for being a solid supporter of the Nevada National Guard and how his involvement means so much to the soldiers and their families.
Gonzales also recounted the first time the company deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 and suffered casualties in late September of the same year when insurgents shot down a Chinook with five aboard, including two soldiers from Nevada. Gonzales, who was a colonel at the time, was serving a deployment to Iraq and spent the next 10 days arranging for transportation and then traveling to Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan.
Once Gonzales arrived at KAF, he spent time with the commander and his first sergeant and also had the opportunity to fly on several missions with them.
In addition to the speakers, three soldiers received awards.
Both Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dan Walters of Genoa and Gable, who grew up in Yerington but now lives in the Reno area, each received the Drennan A. Clark Order of Nevada award for their second deployment to Afghanistan, and Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Malone, who works for Naval Air Station Fallon’s VFC 13 as a civilian employee for Sikorsky, received an Army Commendation Medal for saving lives after a vintage airplane crashed into the crowd at the Reno Air Races on Sept. 16, 2011.