STEAD - More than 100 soldiers from a Nevada Army National Guard aviation company were officially activated Sunday in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan.
Members from the Stead-based Company D 113th Aviation will leave this week in CH-47 helicopters (Chinooks) for Fort Sill, Okla., for additional training and mobilization. At the end of the training, which could last as long as 60 days, the soldiers will deploy to the Kandahar Air Base for 18 months.
This makes the second Nevada aviation unit activated in a year. The 126th Air Ambulance Det. has been flying medevac and search-and-rescue missions out of Fort Carson, Colo., and could return to Nevada by late spring. Prior to that assignment, the 126th served a short tour at Kandahar in a peacekeeping role.
Maj. Gen. Giles E. Vanderhoof, the adjutant general for Nevada, said since Sept. 11, 2001, the Nevada National Guard has been called out extensively in the global war on terrorism. Vanderhoof feels confident the aviation company will complete its mission.
"We know you're well-trained, well-prepared to perform your mission over there," Vanderhoof told the soldiers and their families and friends.
Once units activate, the U.S. Army assumes command, but Vanderhoof assured the soldiers and their families they will still be supported locally.
"Even though you're in the Army, we will still support you and your families. You are still in the National Guard family," he said.
Most of the Guardsmen and their families live in the Reno/Sparks and Carson City areas.
Brig. Gen. Randal Sayre, commander of the Army Guard for Nevada, said 65 percent of the state's citizen-soldiers are deployed, and by the end of the year, more than 50 percent will be combat veterans.
Sayre said the unit has been involved with the pre-mobilization process for more than three months and should do well in Afghanistan, based on the company's readiness training.
He also applauded the soldiers for their commitment.
"You have put your lives, family, jobs, education on hold," he said, adding that the Guardsmen have dedicated extensive time to their training.
Several soldiers are looking forward to duty in Afghanistan.
Sgt. John Winder, a motor pool sergeant, said he has heard the country resembles the northern part of Nevada.
"I've looked up some information, but I have also been pretty busy," he said.
Winder received additional information from a family friend who has served as a special forces officer in the region.
Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Schrader, a sheet metal mechanic, said he has been looking forward to the deployment since the alert waning was issued several months ago.
Maj. Daniel Waters, the executive officer for the 991st Troop Command, the parent battalion for the aviation unit, said the crews should not have any problems flying in Afghanistan.
"Luckily, our troops have trained in the same type of terrain - sagebrush and mountains. (Kandahar's) latitude is almost the same as ours," Waters pointed out.
Waters said every pilot has completed high-altitude training and is familiar with flying near steep mountains.
Since every CH-47 has been assigned to service overseas, Waters said the state has entered into a compact agreement with several other states to provide helicopters during the fire season and for search-and-rescue missions. He said several Chinooks and Blackhawk helicopters will be assigned to the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Stead airport.
Company D 113th Aviation will join several other Nevada units deployed overseas and at home. The 1864th Transportation and the 321st Signal companies are conducting missions in Kuwait and Iraq. The 221st Cavalry Regiment has been performing opposing-forces training at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., for units deployment to Iraq.
Two other Nevada units, the 72nd Military Police Co., and the 777th Engineer Utility Team, have already served an active-duty tour in Iraq.