Two South Carolina helicopter units are deploying this week to Afghanistan.
Twenty Apache attack helicopters and 190 soldiers from McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover are heading to additional training at Fort Hood, Texas, on Saturday. Six Chinook transport helicopters and 60 soldiers are leaving for Fort Hood from the Donaldson Center in Greenville on Wednesday.
The deployments have been planned for a year and are not part of President Donald Trump’s authorization for more troops to Afghanistan. However, they will be in the war-torn country supporting U.S. troops and the Afghan Army at a time of escalation.
“It will be dangerous for all of our aviators outside the wire,” said Lt. Col. Brian Pipkin of Jamestown in Berkeley County, commander of the Eastover-based 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion. “We’ve trained really hard and we will continue to refine those skills. I feel that our guys are the best suited for the job.”
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The 1-151 ARB will be joined by the Chinooks of Detachment-1, Company B of the 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion.
At Fort Hood, the S.C. Guard units will be joined by 22 more aircraft – Apaches, Chinooks and medical evacuation helicopters from National Guard units from Pennsylvania, Iowa and Illinois.
The combined task force will train in Texas for 40 to 60 days before shipping out for Afghanistan, Pipkin said. There, they will join the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade.
The task force and its helicopters will be flown by transport plane to Afghanistan, where the soldiers will receive an additional 18 Blackhawk helicopters. Their mission will be to provide transportation and close air support for the Afghan Army and United States advisers and support troops.
“We’re there to support the Afghanistan Army in their transportation to and from the battle,” Pipkin said.
A departure ceremony for the Eastover soldiers’ families will be held Saturday at McEntire.