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The assembled soldiers of Company C, 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, sing the Army song one last time at the unit’s deactivation ceremony in Giebelstadt, Germany.
The assembled soldiers of Company C, 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, sing the Army song one last time at the unit’s deactivation ceremony in Giebelstadt, Germany. (Steve Liewer / S&S)
The assembled soldiers of Company C, 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, sing the Army song one last time at the unit’s deactivation ceremony in Giebelstadt, Germany.
The assembled soldiers of Company C, 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, sing the Army song one last time at the unit’s deactivation ceremony in Giebelstadt, Germany. (Steve Liewer / S&S)
Capt. Ed Austin, Company C’s final commander, speaks to his men for the last time. The company, part of the Giebelstadt-based 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, was deactivated Thursday, eight months after the unit returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
Capt. Ed Austin, Company C’s final commander, speaks to his men for the last time. The company, part of the Giebelstadt-based 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, was deactivated Thursday, eight months after the unit returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq. (Steve Liewer / S&S)

GIEBELSTADT, Germany — The Raptors of Company C have snagged their last prey.

Eight months after returning from a grueling year in Iraq, the UH-60 Black Hawk company — part of the Giebelstadt-based 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment — cased its colors Thursday at a deactivation ceremony.

“As the guidon is rolled for the final time, let it never be forgotten, but always remembered,” said Capt. Thomas E. “Ed” Austin, in a farewell speech to the company’s 35 members at the battalion’s hangar.

The shutdown reduces the strength of the 5-158 Aviation from 24 Black Hawks to 16. The battalion is part of the 12th Aviation Brigade, whose job it is to move personnel and equipment for the Germany-based V Corps.

Michael Tolzmann, a spokesman for U.S. Army Europe, said Company C’s deactivation has been planned since 2002 as part of the “transformation” of Army aviation — a program running parallel with, but that is not connected to, the Pentagon’s “Global Posture and Repositioning” initiative that is scheduled to sharply reduce the Army’s presence in Europe.

Tolzmann said Company C was supposed to be deactivated in 2003, but that was postponed because of the unit’s deployment to Iraq. He said no plans have been completed for the shutdown of any other Army aviation units.

The 5-158 Aviation’s commander, Lt. Col. Clay Hutmacher, said the Army transformation plan eventually will change the look of units like his. Instead of three companies of Black Hawk airlift units, they will have one Black Hawk airlift company, one medical evacuation company and one CH-47 Chinook airlift company.

Then, he said, the reconfigured aviation battalions will be attached to the new Army brigades that are currently replacing the division structure the Pentagon now believes is outmoded.

“I think this transformation is long overdue,” Hutmacher said. “It will make us more relevant, more rapidly deployable, and more lethal.”

The company was organized in 1999 at Wiesbaden Army Airfield and moved to Giebelstadt the next year. In its short history, it deployed Black Hawk crews to Tunisia, Mali, Norway, Czech Republic and Poland before heading to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom in late 2002 and staying until February 2004.

Austin praised his troops for flying the highest number of combat hours of any Black Hawk unit in Iraq during the first rotation of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and also for fielding Task Force Gabriel, the Army’s first personnel-recovery task force. Between March and May 2003, Task Force Gabriel crews helped search for several downed aircraft, rescued an Army long-range surveillance team deep in Iraq, and ferried seven rescued prisoners of war to safety.

“This is the greatest company in the brigade,” Austin said. “You are an incredible assemblage of men.”

The unit spent the past several months packing up their helicopters for other units. Four of the birds already have been sent to Iraq, Hutmacher said.

All of the Company C pilots and soldiers are moving to other units within the 12th Brigade, so none will be leaving Giebelstadt. Still, they agreed it isn’t easy to see the Raptors disappear.

“Because of the time in Iraq and the bond that people built, I think there’s a little bit of sadness,” said Austin, 30, of Effingham, Ill. “But no one’s kicking and screaming and fighting it.”

“It’s finally sinking in,” said 1st Sgt. Jason Speede, 33, of Norfolk, Va., the unit’s senior noncommissioned officer. “It’s painful. It’s sad.”

He predicted that, although they will move on and serve with other units, most troops in Company C will treasure their time there above all because of the wartime bond.

“The Raptors have earned their place in the heraldry of the 12th Aviation Brigade,” Speede said. “The memory of the Raptors is going to live for a long time.”

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