LANDSTUHL, Germany — The deployment ceremony in the hangar near the Landstuhl Army Heliport Wednesday morning was short, the hugs and handshakes afterward even briefer.
Minutes after the ceremony concluded, about 40 Army helicopter medical evacuation crewmembers had said farewell to their families and were on the bus, the first leg of travel to Kuwait, a deployment expected to be more low-key than the unit’s previous one to Afghanistan.
It would have been another routine departure in a long list of deployments for the storied DUSTOFF crews, which have ferried countless war wounded from the battlefield. But it may be the last time any of the members of Company C, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment deploy from the location the unit has called home for 52 years.
By the summer of 2015, the unit will move to Grafenwöhr, where it will be closer to the locations it currently serves in Europe. Despite its proximity to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, its primary home-station mission for the last six years has been evacuating injured U.S. soldiers and NATO allies who train on the ranges at Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels and flying them to nearby medical facilities, said the unit’s commander, Maj. Jesse Delgado.
The move is part of U.S. Army Europe transformation, a restructuring plan that also calls for a smaller Army helicopter medical evacuation footprint on the Continent.
As it prepares to relocate, the company will reduce from 109 to 46 soldiers, who will stand up the new detachment at Grafenwöhr, Delgado said, although a few additional support personnel will join the unit from other companies.
The unit will go from 15 to six Black Hawk helicopters.
One other Army medical evacuation unit remains in Germany, based out of Katterbach. The fate of Company C, 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, is still under consideration.
“There is a possibility that Army medevac in Europe gets even smaller,” Delgado said.
The helicopter units in both Landstuhl and Katterbach have drawn protests from some vocal residents opposed to the noise.
“The night flights and the noise caused by the helicopters were a problem. This is a good solution now for both parties,” Landstuhl Mayor Peter Degenhardt said of the move. Opponents, he said, “literally popped the corks” at the news.
The Landstuhl unit’s restructuring and relocation is part of the Army transformation plan announced in 2012, which included the inactivation of two of Europe’s four brigade combat teams as well as 2,500 soldiers from “enabling units.”
Some soldiers have already begun to move to Grafenwöhr, Delgado said.
Those who are deploying will return to Landstuhl before moving, he said.
Their families, however, won’t leave until the soldiers return some time between September and December, he said.
After five years working from Landstuhl, Army Staff Sgt. Antonio Gattis, 35, a flight medic and instructor, said he’s looking forward to helping the unit transition, though he will be moving elsewhere as part of an assignment change.
“Most of the guys don’t really mind going to Graf,” he said. “It’s a pretty good area. The people are friendly. To me, it just makes sense anyway. It just puts us closer to the action.”
Marcus Klöckner contributed to this report.