NH Guardsmen off to serve in Afghanistan
MANCHESTER - A New Hampshire National Guard unit is headed to Afghanistan for a nine-month deployment.
The 19 members of the 169th Aviation Regiment received a one-hour sendoff Friday in a New Hampshire National Guard hangar, where the state's governor and full congressional delegation joined friends and family wishing the soldiers well on their upcoming tour of duty.
The MEDEVAC unit will be responsible for flying behind the lines to retrieve and provide emergency treatment to soldiers and civilians injured in the Afghanistan fighting.
'Until they close up shop, we've got to be there. That's the hard part with MEDEVAC,' said Chief Warrant Officer Anthony Foote, the unit's commander. 'Without us, they're at risk. They won't be able to get off the battlefield when they need to. We have that golden rule - one hour - from the point of injury to the hospital in one hour. That's our job.'
This is the second deployment for Foote, who also went over in 2005. He was a pilot in a Blackhawk helicopter unit back then. Now he's a married father of two, having to say goodbye to his wife and two daughters, including one just born in June.
Foote said he and his wife, Nicole, spent part of Thursday night making videos showing how to shut off the water at their home in Bow, how to start the lawnmower and other household responsibilities that he has been handling.
The couple was dating seven years ago when Foote was last deployed and Nicole was there to say goodbye.
'I wouldn't say it's any harder. It's the same - It's still hard,' she said. 'My daughter is really going to miss him. Every time she falls down, it's going to be 'I want my Daddy!' That's the hardest part this time.'
There were lots of tears in the hangar as different speakers went to the microphone to wish the unit well as the 19 members stood at attention with arms folded behind their backs next to one of the Blackhawks.
'Thank you, 169th and God bless you,' said 7-year-old Kyra Whitehead before she sang 'God Bless America.'
One of the soldiers was called to the stage to receive a promotion he just learned of earlier in the day. Staff Sgt. Ian Short was promoted to Sgt. 1st Class as he prepared for a third tour in the Middle East. Short also served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a paratrooper with an Airborne unit and is now one of the senior medics of the 169th.
Short is also leaving behind a baby - 4-month-old Connor - and his wife, Jacqueline, who is doing post-doctoral graduate studies at Dartmouth College.
'It's incredibly hard to say goodbye,' Short said. 'It's always been a part of me to serve when called. It's difficult to leave, but I owe it to them to stay who I am.'
The unit was scheduled to depart today on a three-day trip to Fort Hood, Texas, where the New Hampshire solders will join units from Pennsylvania and Missouri. The four units will train as one, then head to Afghanistan.
'We'll all link up down there and form one massive unit,' Foote said. 'It's kind of like bringing the family together on the holidays at Christmas, trying to get everybody to work together and make it happen. Four units, four different personalities.'