Retired Nevada guardsman Jim Groth waited eagerly for his son and son-in-law to descend the escalator to the ground floor of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Groth’s daughter, Alyssa Harrison, said the homecoming would be a day to remember for her and her husband, high school sweethearts at Carson High School. For the Groth family, of Carson City, Sunday’s military reunion was one of relief as the first of two groups of Nevada Army National Guardsmen returned to the Silver State after being deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months. The company arrived Feb. 9 in Texas after serving most of its mission performing medical evacuations in Regional Command West, a military district that borders Iran.
Thirteen guardsmen arrived Sunday morning, and 27 more — including the company’s commander, Capt. Andrew Wagner — were expected later Sunday night.
Maj. Dennis Fournier, state public-affairs officer, said the company performed medical evacuation missions using Black Hawk helicopters. Eight helicopters have returned to Nevada.
Jim Groth’s son, Josh, who grew up in Carson City but now lives in Reno, served his first deployment overseas with C Company, 1/168th General Support Battalion based at Stead’s Army Aviation Support Facility. While Chief Warrant Officer 2 Josh Groth couldn’t wait to see his friends and parents, his first remark was directed toward the huge crowd waiting for the soldiers, many holding handmade signs or waving U.S. flags.
“It’s amazing how many people are here,” said Josh Groth, a helicopter pilot, before hugging a friend.
Harrison said the 10 months went by fairly quickly.
“It was not as long as I expected,” he said. “We’ve been busy with vacations and other things, but today is the best day of my life ... better than our wedding day and the children’s births.”
Harrison said the ability to communicate with her husband almost every day made the deployment easier to bear.
“But there were patches of days we couldn’t communicate,” she said, explaining there were blackout periods. “But when he hit U.S. soil, I had a sigh of relief.”
Black Hawk pilot and 1st Lt. Nigel Harrison said he also was happy to return to Nevada, but he said the mission was successful even with the war winding down.
“I was thankful to be with good soldiers, and with the soldiers from Washington and California, we really had a great group,” he said.
The battalion included helicopter companies from Northern California and Washington state. The company, which has undergone several unit designation changes during its history, previously deployed twice to Afghanistan and once each to Kosovo in the 1990s and Fort Carson, Colo., in 2004.
“RC West was extremely quiet because most of the action was down south,” the Nevada Guard pilot said.
Jim Groth once served in the aviation company but transferred to another unit in 2000, about four weeks before guardsmen left to Kosovo for a seven-month deployment. During his 28 years in the Nevada Guard, the elder Groth never deployed to a war zone.
“I tried to deploy on this one, but they (military) would not let me get back in from the retired reserves,” he said.
Since he couldn’t join his son and Nigel Harrison on the deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, his attention turned to helping his daughter and the couple’s four children.
“It’s been a family affair,” he said. “It’s also been real exciting, but we bonded together and helped take care of the grandkids.”