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Lakehurst aviators go to war
by Sgt. 1st class Kryn P. Westhoven JFHQ-NJ/PA.

It was just after sunrise on Sunday morning as a small group of aviators and family members shielded their eyes from the bright rays to watch a formation of four Blackhawk helicopters pass by the hanger on Lakehurst Naval Engineering Station. They waved goodbye to the 37 members of the Company A, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion knowing that these New Jersey Army National Guard members would not return to this tarmac for nearly a year.

This was a very personal sendoff compared to a day earlier on Feb. 16 when the Army Aviation Support Facility #1 hangar was filled with family, friends, veterans from several wars and the leadership of the New Jersey Army National Guard.

“I not so sure we can get away with calling ourselves the ‘Black Sheep’ when we have standing room only at our farewell send off,” said Capt. Sean Roughneen, commander of A Company as he spoke of the nickname the unit took on after being formed less than two years ago.

Pfc. Christina Shewchuk with four-year old sister Bailey. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kryn P. Westhoven

A total of eight aircraft flew to Fort Sill, Okla., filled with personal belongings and unit equipment to start the mobilization process as they join up with the Utah Army National Guard’s 2- 211th General Support Aviation Battalion. Task Force 2-211 will provide aviation support to the Combined Forces land Component Command in Kuwait.

It has been only 20 months since the unit was started as part of the Army Aviation transformation process. The past year has been difficult and time consuming for the citizen-Soldiers with the many requirements, additional schools and training in Utah, Alabama and Fort Dix to prepare for the Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment.

“These Soldiers have gone well beyond what is considered a normal training year,” added Roughneen.

“This deployment will be a key event in your life. The training you completed up to now, all the courses you attended, all the annual trainings you participated in, it has all lead to this deployment.

"This is the culmination of what has been your military career,” noted Roughneen.

For the commander and nine other unit members this is their second deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism. “I have mixed emotions, but the troops need us,” said Staff Sgt. Leroy Metz Jr., who has spent 33 years in aviation and deployed with the 50th Main Support Battalion in 2004.

Pfc. Thomas Vickers strapping duffle bags into the back of a helicopter. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kryn P. Westhoven.

These veterans know that preparation is the key to success; it also helps a new unit gel as a team giving every member confidence.

“We are absolutely prepared. We have had a ton of training the past year. There is going to be more training as we go along, so we are definitely ready for it,” said Chief Warrant Officer Todd Collins of Bayville, a Blackhawk pilot who joined the Guard four years ago.

Strapping duffle bags into the back of the helicopter, Trenton native Pfc. Thomas Vickers is eager to face the challenges of the deployment. “This is awesome,’ said the 23-year old Vickers who serves as a Blackhawk crew chief.

“They are chomping at the bit, they are really ready to get out the door and really ready to get to the next phase,” added Roughneen. “It has been a long, hard, tasking year.”

Table of Contents
Volume 33 Number 6 Staff / Information
(c) 2008 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs