JOINT BASE BALAD, IRAQ
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – The California Army National guardsmen of the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, have left the blistering heat of Iraq behind and are en route to the cool ocean breezes of the California coast.
The battalion wrapped up its yearlong tour in Iraq in late July and is expected to arrive at its home station of Los Alamitos, Calif. around Aug. 1.
“I’m happy to say, we’re all going home, coming home safe,” said Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1st Sgt. Robert Garrido, who is returning to Lakewood, Calif., and his civilian job as a Culver City police officer.
“I’m not going to miss this heat,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Troy Eck, a resident of Mentone, Calif., and the top enlisted soldier in the battalion. Temperatures reached upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit as the battalion prepared to leave its headquarters building on Joint Base Balad.
The California Army National Guard’s 1-140th AHB, known as Task Force Long Knife, arrived in Iraq in October 2010. Over the course of the year, the battalion’s pilots logged about 14,000 hours of flight time in support of Operation New Dawn. Its approximately 350 soldiers, 30 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and 20 fixed-wing aircraft performed a variety of missions in theater.
The unit conducted air assault missions to detain high value targets. It was responsible for air transportation for United States Forces—Iraq command staff and flew distinguished visitors around the country. Visitors included Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his successor Leon Panetta, among several others. It also operated two Forward Arming and Refueling Points that supplied fuel for Army aviation assets in theater.
Eck said that over the past year he watched his soldiers adapt to adversity and grow into leadership roles. “Everybody’s done a phenomenal job,” he said.
“As a unit, we became more cohesive, more experienced. We became a better unit,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Holliday, of Sacramento, Calif. “These guys did things they didn’t think they could do.”
Holliday recalled one incident where a UH-60 Black Hawk flew to Joint Base Balad late one night with a damaged engine in need of replacement. The mechanics of Delta Company went right to work starting around midnight and finishing the job by 6 a.m. “It was an incredible piece of work,” he said.
When the battalion arrived in theater, it fell under the command of the active-duty Army’s Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Riley, Kan. In March, the 1st CAB was replaced by the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, led by Col. Mitch Medigovich.
On July 19, Medigovich, a Sacramento native, arrived on Joint Base Balad to say his goodbyes to the battalion. “You came and brought your A-game,” he said to a gathering of 1-140th soldiers. “You are the quintessential example of California guardsmen.”
The soldiers told Medigovich about the many ups and downs they faced over the year. One challenge was sharing a base with the Air Force and learning that branch’s way of doing business, they said. They spoke of long hours and a high operations tempo that could often get stressful. They also said that transitioning from being a one-weekend-a-month guardsman to a full-time soldier in a deployed environment was challenging, especially when it came to living and working with the same people day in and day out.
They spoke of the camaraderie and the strong bonds of friendship that were forged on the job and at barbecues after work and pool parties at the base’s two swimming pools.
Maj. Jeff Sibley, a San Clemente, Calif., native, and the officer in charge of the battalion’s operations section, said the most difficult aspect of the deployment was the separation from family. “I’m not going to lie to you. I’m ready to go home,” he said. But he added that the challenges of the deployment gave him the opportunity to grow, both personally and professionally.
First Lt. Aaron Montes, of Ontario, Calif., said as soon as he arrives home, he is going straight back to work at his civilian job as a Skechers logistics manager. During the deployment, he said his job as the officer in charge of the battalion’s communications and automation section was high pace and high stress. He said when they first arrived in country, the base was often hit with mortar and rocket attacks. Then there was the constant deafening roar of Air Force jets taking off and landing.
“My job back home is easy compared to this,” he said.
Medigovich told the guardsmen to be proud of their service in Iraq, adding that their experiences here have prepared them for leadership roles back home.
While the 1-140th is headed home, the remainder of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade has several months to go in Iraq, Medigovich reminded them. “Have a few cold beers and fish tacos when you get back home and think of us still here,” he said.
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This work, 1-140th AHB says goodbye Iraq, hello California, by CPT Jason Sweeney, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.