The men and women stood at attention in straight lines, a green Chinook helicopter behind them, as they listened to the National Anthem, bowed their heads in prayer and heard final instructions and words of encouragement from commanding officers.
Many in the detachment of nearly 60 soldiers had stood in similar departure ceremonies before. But once again, they’re headed overseas on a mission to provide air support to the U.S. military’s tactical operations in Afghanistan – a war that began seven years before this unit ever formed in 2008 and is now America’s longest military engagement.
Most of these 60 members of the South Carolina Army National Guard’s Company B, 2nd Battalion 238th Aviation unit will leave Thursday for a month of training at a station in Texas before heading overseas to Afghanistan for approximately one year.
The detachment includes 13 pilots, while the rest are support personnel for six CH-47 Chinooks that will head overseas with them, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Barkley. They don’t know their exact destination but will be deploying with the new Chinook F-Model for the first time, he said.
This will mark the unit’s third deployment to Afghanistan, Barkley said. Many of the soldiers wore white patches – a sign of previous combat experience – and have deployed multiple times to either Afghanistan, Iraq or Kuwait either with this detachment or others. This will mark Barkley’s third deployment overseas, he said. One soldier will be sent on his fourth deployment.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Barkley, who had been on the command side in previous deployments but was offered the opportunity to come back as a pilot for this tour.
The unit has prepared for nearly a year for deployment, said Major General Van McCarty, the S.C. Deputy Adjutant General. They’ve flown training flights in the new models over the skies of Simpsonville and Anderson for months in preparation in the new Chinooks, Barkley said.