CAMP PAGE, South Korea — Members of the 542nd Medical Company (Air Ambulance) bid farewell to South Korea in a ceremony here Tuesday, capping almost a decade of service near the Demilitarized Zone.

The 542nd is headed to Fort Campbell, Ky., after flying missions to aid soldiers injured during training near the DMZ and preparing for a possible war with North Korea, said Maj. Shaun Bailey, the unit’s commander.

“We have done our small part to preserve peace by preparing for war,” Bailey told about 120 542nd soldiers assembled for the departure ceremony in an empty hangar where they once serviced Black Hawk helicopters.

Outside the hangar, the airstrip where dozens of helicopters once parked was empty except for a Black Hawk that brought officials to the ceremony and a few Apache attack helicopters that belong to 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment. That unit will move to Camp Eagle, near Wonju, this month.

The 542nd, formed in 1944 during World War II, participated in the Korean and Vietnam wars. It was deactivated in Vietnam in June 1970, then reactivated in September 1995 for its mission in South Korea, Bailey said.

The unit leaves the peninsula with its mission accomplished, he said.

“The alliance is strong enough. They don’t need us and we can leave,” he said, adding that the 542nd’s future mission is undetermined.

The 52nd Medical Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Steven Rumbaugh, who also spoke at the ceremony, cited the 542nd’s record of no aircraft accidents in seven years and its outstanding operational readiness rate.

And 18th Medical Command commander Col. Brian Allgood thanked the troops for their work saving lives and alleviating hurt and suffering.

“Commanders knew if something happened, you were able to respond professionally, come in and provide aid.” Had there been “a transition to hostilities, you had the ability to be able to do that tonight,” he said.

Soldiers in South Korea would follow the unit’s future missions with interest, he said. “We are going to be here watching what you do as you … support the global war on terrorism. That is a daunting challenge but you are exactly the unit to go do that,” he said.

One of the departing 542nd soldiers, Sgt. Andrew Quen, 32, of Concord, Calif., spent six months training Black Hawk crews in South Korea.

One of his most exciting missions was flying a pregnant South Korean woman, who had gone into labor, from Camp Casey to the 121st General Hospital at Yongsan Garrison, he said.

The unit’s soldiers are unsure what the future holds but were aware of the chance they will be deploy to another theater in the fight against terrorism, Quen said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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