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Guard welcomes home remainder of 1-106th Assault Helicopter Battalion
Guard welcomes home remainder of 1-106th Assault Helicopter Battalion

Missouri National Guard Sgt. Bradley Horne, of Waynesville, holds his daughter, Vanessa, 5, at the welcome home ceremony for the 1-106th Assault Helicopter Battalion.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (June 1, 2009) — After 51 of its soldiers returned to their families May 24, the remaining 23 Missouri National Guardsmen from the 1-106th Assault Helicopter Battalion were welcomed home May 29 at the Christopher S. “Kit” Bond Army Aviation Support Facility on post.

Once the Guardsmen were dismissed from formation, Sgt. Bradley Horne, of Waynesville, leaned down to pick up his son, Bradley, 9, and his daughter, Vanessa, 5, after they sprinted into his arms for a big hug.

“It’s great,” Horne said of being home.

Horne, a crew chief, was one of several soldiers who were asked to work away from the main part of the unit.

“I didn’t really get to hang out too much with them. I was stationed at Tallil and the rest of the company was split up,” Horne said. “It had its ups and downs. I didn’t have the support from the company because they were hours away.”

Vanessa gave a “thumb up” in response to her father coming home.

“It’s really good,” she said. “I wanted him to come home.”

The Guardsmen of the UH-60 Black Hawk unit from Fort Leonard Wood spent nearly a year deployed in southeast Iraq.

Capt. Nicholas Pianalto, the unit commander, said he couldn’t be more pleased with what the 1-106th was able to accomplish under difficult circumstances.

“We were the only UH-60s in southeast Iraq for a long time, so we were certainly busy,” he said. “The ground commanders depended on us to move their people form point A to point B. We were responsible for transporting cargo and hauling dignitaries, ambassadors and generals of all levels. We also performed air assault missions and inserting troops, both U.S. and Iraqi Army soldiers, into and near objectives. We worked a great deal along the Iranian border trying to counter the smuggling of illegal weapons and terrorists across those lines. It was a pretty extraordinary experience. The guys were busy.”

Pianalto, who lives in Jefferson City, said the high marks the 1-106th received from the active Army component reassured him that the unit’s mission was an achievement.

“It’s hard to judge your success when you are the only air assault company there, but I can tell you the reason we were sent is because we did have the strongest Black Hawk company in the battalion,” Pianalto said. “They knew if somebody was going to go down there and operate on their own, we were the guys who were going to have the most success. We overcame adversity and basically did an outstanding job with limited resources.”

“Hearing that from the active-duty individuals, telling me that they couldn’t be more proud — that they would take my company with them anywhere they went and that we were able to adapt and react better than any of their companies — it meant a great deal,” Pianalto said.

That recognition from the active Army put a smile on the face of Brig. Gen. Stephen Danner, the adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, who attended the welcome home ceremony.

“They had a great mission and they completed it with accolades,” Danner said. “The active component was very pleased — commanders from the theater were ecstatic over the professionalism of our soldiers. That’s why they ask them back again and again.”

“We’ve got some really professional and dedicated soldiers. As a Guard family, we couldn’t be more proud of their service,” Danner said.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Aaron Johnson, of Springfield, said he found aspects of the mission challenging.

“Transitioning back and forth from the air assault missions to the medical evacuation missions was difficult,” he said. “When flying a medical evacuation mission, you never get used to seeing your own soldiers hurt.”

But he was pleased that all the missions served an important purpose.

“It just felt good to know that we went over there and helped people, soldiers as well as civilians, to hopefully better their lives,” Johnson said.

The citizen-soldiers from Missouri were activated for duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in June 2008.

Upon arriving in theater, the unit was assigned to Task Force 449 Combat Aviation Brigade and moved from forward operating base to forward operating base throughout its deployment as mission dictated.

Company C operated out of Basrah, Tallil and Gary Owen Air Field in southeast Iraq. Its mission was to conduct air movement operations, air assault, battlefield circulation, cargo transport, reconnaissance and medical evacuation in support of coalition and Iraqi Army forces. While in theater, the 1-106th executed more than 4,500 flight hours, moved more than 5,700 passengers, transported more than 183,000 pounds of cargo, conducted 20 air assault missions and more than 140 medical evacuations, as well as quick response force and helicopter emergency reconnaissance observer missions.

Several of the soldiers, including 1st Sgt. Kevin Findley, of Jefferson City, didn’t want to waste any more time around the flight facility and were ready to get home.

“This has been my third trip away and I appreciate it more and more every time I come home,” Findley said. “It really makes you appreciate family, what goes on back home and how much you miss it.”

Findley, the unit’s senior noncommissioned officer, said he was proud of the way the 1-106th matured.

“We started out with a really young group and we brought them a long way,” Findley said. “They came back experienced veterans and it helped the future of our unit. It will be a good experience for the next time they go.”

Pianalto said that the bus ride to post from their demobilization at Fort Sill, Okla, was outstanding.

“Everybody was excited on the bus and couldn’t wait to get here,” he said. “When we rolled in and saw the Family members, it was an incredible feeling. It was a very emotional event and obviously we’re all grateful to be back — we brought everybody back home and the guys did great things over there.”

Johnson described the bus ride as a “long trip,” but it also gave him time to reflect and see support from the citizens back home, including a pair of motorcycle clubs.

“It was great from Springfield on when those guys started escorting us,” he said. “They picked us up in Springfield and we had an escort all the way here.

“I was thinking about seeing my wife again and looking forward to getting home and seeing my house, family and friends. It was nice to see Missouri again.”

Johnson’s wife, Casie, said the wait at the flight facility seemed like forever and she felt “overwhelming joy” when she saw her husband enter with the rest of the unit.

“I was pretty cool until then and I just lost it,” she said. “I was relieved.”

Casie said she and her husband kept in contact via the phone.

“We talked almost every day — we were very lucky,” she said. “Sometimes he had to wait for hours in line to get the phone, but we talked at least 15 minutes a day. Anytime it went more than two days without hearing from him, it just made me worry. So hearing his voice every day let me know he was OK.”

Danner was excited to now have the entire unit safely at home.

“I’m never satisfied until the whole unit gets in,” he said. “I’m more animated because I know everybody now is home safe and it’s done — the mission is complete. I think this was an important closure to have for the families and the soldiers.”

Danner also praised members from the first group of 51 who came back to help welcome home their battle buddies.

“I think that is very important,” Danner said. “I thought it spoke well of the Guard family that these soldiers would take time out of their time off to come back and welcome the rest of Charlie Company home.”

The 51 soldiers from the first portion of the unit returned on the Sunday before Memorial Day were from Company C, Detachment 1 of Company D, Detachment 1 of Company E and Detachment 1 of Headquarters, Headquarters Company.

At the Sunday ceremony, the adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard said it is always nice to welcome home Guardsmen, but it is even more special to do it before such an important holiday.

“I think it highlights not only what the 1-106th has done and their successful mission in the fact that they brought home everybody safely,” said Danner, who addressed the troops at the ceremony. “But it also is a reminder for all of us on this important weekend, as we did in the ceremony today, that we recognize those who have served before us and honor those veterans who have gone before us.”

Danner said he was impressed with the unit’s execution of their mission and its ability to overcome obstacles.

“They did a difficult mission under difficult circumstances,” Danner said. “I know they were assigned to special operations missions and more than 20 air assaults. Those are all high-pressure missions. These guys did just an extraordinary job. From the commands in the field, we’ve gotten nothing but good words about how absolutely professional and top-notch our Guardsmen are.”

“I feel very proud of what our company and our detachments came to do,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justin Perry. “I think it’s something that not a lot of companies in either the National Guard or active duty could have accomplished. It was a very difficult mission. We have a lot of very talented people that deployed with us and we accomplished a very interesting mission, working with the British and a lot of other customers.”

The region the 1-106th was working in was primarily controlled by the British, Perry said.

“There weren’t a whole lot of assets, as far as Americans, where we were at,” Perry said. “So we had to kind of make due with a lot of things and be creative in how we got things done. But our guys certainly came through and made it happen. I’m really proud of what we accomplished.”

Once they broke formation, the soldiers received hugs, kisses and well-wishes from friends and Family members.

“This is great,” said Spc. Kevin Campbell, who was greeted by nine family members.

Campbell, who is from Macks Creek, called the deployment “an experience.”

“It wasn’t what I expected,” he said. “It was my first time over there so I don’t really know how to describe it.”

Campbell’s 9-year-old daughter Brianna said it was “great to have Daddy home.”

“I’ve missed him a lot,” she said. “The best part will probably be to spend time with him.”

Campbell said he wanted to take his daughter on a motorcycle ride.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ken Killian, of Springfield, said he’s been dreaming of coming home since he left for deployment. Killian, who missed his son Chase’s seventh birthday by a day, was pleased with what the unit was able to accomplish.

“We had a tough job, but we all came together,” Killian said. “We did what we had to and completed the mission. We got everybody back and that was the most important thing. Everyone we took over came back with us.”

Killian’s wife, Heather, said it was extra special to have her husband home the day before Memorial Day.

“I can’t even explain how good it feels. It’s surreal,” Heather said. “It’s very emotional.”

Heather said she communicated with her husband just about every day he was gone.

“It was mostly by phone, and e-mail, too,” she said. “There have been maybe a handful of days that I didn’t talk to him. Technology is wonderful.”

Killian said being able to communicate so easily made the deployment easier on the Family.

“It helped being able to keep in touch and just let them know we were safe and also know how they were doing,” Killian said. “It helped a lot.”

Perry, of Columbia, found it even easier to communicate with his wife, Spc. Stephanie Perry, during deployment because they shared a tent, along with the rest of the unit, and saw each other every day.

Justin, a Black Hawk pilot, and Stephanie, who worked in supply, said it was their first time deploying together.

“I’ve been in Company C the past 12 years and when the opportunity came for us to deploy, Stephanie transferred into the unit so we could deploy together,” Justin said. “I thought that better than being apart or getting separate deployments, so it all worked out for us pretty well. The Family that deploys together stays together.”

Justin deployed without Stephanie in 2004-2005 and she said it was absolutely better to go with him.

“I knew when he went up and I knew when he came down,” Stephanie said. “It felt good and there was much less worrying.”

Justin said he would recommend deploying together to other couples in the Guard.

“Our theory is that the family that deploys together, stays together,” Justin said.

Stephanie said was proud of how the unit went above and beyond to complete its mission.

“I don’t think there are many other people who could have done what we did,” she said. “We have an amazing group of people. We did something it would normally take about twice as many people to pull off. We had people pulling at least double duty if not doing two or three jobs because we were understaffed and had logistical issues.”

Even though they hadn’t ever really been apart, the two said they were both looking forward to some time together.

“We’re ready to be husband and wife instead of soldier to soldier,” Stephanie said.

“I’m ready to have some family time,” Justin added.

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