Camp Eagle helo repair troops off to Iraq
Stars and Stripes October 26, 2004
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The U.S. Army in South Korea has deployed about 30 helicopter repair troops to serve a yearlong stint maintaining a National Guard unit’s AH-64 Apache helicopters in Iraq.
The troops from Company G, 194th Maintenance Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment at Camp Eagle were to fly out of South Korea on Monday.
The battalion, headquartered at Camp Humphreys, honored the deploying troops Friday with a farewell military ceremony on the long, windswept maintenance ramp outside the battalion’s Company C hangar.
Stars and Stripes agreed to a request by U.S. military officials that, for security reasons, this report not be published until after the detachment had left South Korea.
The 8th U.S. Army Band sent a busload of musicians to the ceremony, while a one-star general flew in to meet privately with the departing troops. A chaplain arrived with the general.
Shortly before the farewell ceremony, the detachment met in the hangar with Brig. Gen. Timothy P. McHale, commander of the 19th Theater Support Command in Taegu, and with Col. Richard Garrison, the 19th TSC chaplain.
“It’s going to be a long year. It’s going to be a challenging year,” McHale told the troops. “There’ll be good days and bad days and you guys gotta help each other out through the bad days. Hoo-ah?”
“Hoo-ah,” the troops replied.
During his ten or so minutes with the soldiers, McHale appeared relaxed, unassuming, not unlike a watchful, friendly uncle. Then Garrison, in a calm, quiet voice, drew on Joshua 1:9, the Old Testament passage in which God addresses Joshua: “Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Garrison then invited the troops to bow their heads while he prayed for them.
“Lord God, thank you for the promise of your presence in our lives,” he said. “Be our strength when the body is weak; our courage when we face fear; our hope when our outlook fades; our light when darkness comes; our confidence when we are subject to discouragement. Empower us to complete our tasks proudly and return safely. Protect our loved ones and us.”
McHale shook hands with each soldier, including the detachment’s sergeant-in-charge, Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stowers, 37, of Rochester, Minn.
“Sergeant Stowers,” said McHale. “Thank you. Take care of these guys.
“I’m proud of you guys," McHale then told the group. “We’re all gonna come back, and serve proudly.”
The group then went out into the cool, windy afternoon for the ceremony, which began shortly after 1 p.m. The deploying detachment marched under an “arch” that had been positioned at one end of the ramp. Dating to the Roman Empire, the arch ceremony has become a military tradition for troops departing for war, battalion officials said.
After an invocation, Lt. Col. Steven M. Elkins, 194th Maintenance Battalion commanding officer, moved to the podium.
“We pay tribute to them today because they have been called to go in harm’s way. I tell you this though: These soldiers are prepared,” Elkins said. “Some of these soldiers are on their first tour of duty and several of them are combat veterans who have seen duty during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Some soldiers have returned from Iraq as recently as April and June of this year.
“Even though these soldiers are deploying, they will remain members of this team. In such standing they will remain in our hearts and our prayers until their return. They know that their families are entrusted to us and I personally pledge to them that we will ensure that their families are cared for.”
The half-hour proceedings also featured a pass-in-review in which the detachment, already clad in desert tan uniforms, stood in formation as the rest of the battalion’s troops, in their usual green camouflage BDUs, marched past.
At the command “Eyes — Right!” each passing company turned heads smartly to the right, a traditional military salute, this time to the departing troops.
The troops learned last month that they’d be sent to Iraq. Weeks of rigorous field training followed. They were taught about roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They also went to a training range to learn how to handle themselves during convoys in Iraq and got tips about Iraq and its culture.
“Convoy — you just gotta keep your head on a swivel,” said Pfc. Ricky Garrard, 20, of Newbern, N.C., an electrician who works with the AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter.
From the pre-deployment training he learned, “You gotta be ready. You gotta stay alive. You gotta stay alert.”
Garrard has a wife and a 5-month-old daughter in Newbern. “Coming to Korea, they were already used to me going overseas,” Garrard said. “This time it was more, ‘Don’t try and be a hero. And duck.’”
But Garrard said he felt ready. “I’m expecting to arrive in Iraq … do my job 100 percent, best of my capabilities, and get back home to my family. To the ‘home of the free.’”
Also deploying is Sgt. Jorge De La Vega, 23, of Chicago, an Apache helicopter maintenance supervisor. Awaiting him in Stamford, Conn., are his wife and their 4-year-old daughter, Laila.
He’d just returned to South Korea last month from a mid-tour leave when a buddy gave him some news.
“My friend said, ‘Hey, I got some good news and bad news.’ So I’m like, ‘OK, give me the good news.’
‘The good news is, they’re sending us home for ten days’ leave.’ And I said, ‘OK, give me the bad news.’ And he said ‘We’re going to Iraq.’”
“I’m used to it,” said De La Vega, who’s been in the Army five years. “I went to Kosovo. I went to Afghanistan. Now I’m here in Korea. So I’m like, ‘Let’s do it!’”