Bi-county soldiers in National Guard unit headed to Mideast

Friday, January 20, 2012
Family, friends and community leaders said goodbye to members of the Missouri National Guard's Detachment 3, Company I, 185th Theater Aviation Company in Springfield on Jan. 6. The unit provides pilots and crew for C-23 Sherpa aircraft. [Photo by Ann Keyes/Missouri National Guard]

By Ann Keyes

SPRINGFIELD----Soldiers from the Missouri National Guard's Detachment 3, Company I, 185th Theater Aviation Company, which draws soldiers from throughout southwest Missouri, have left for the Middle East. The soldiers said goodbye to friends and family at a departure ceremony in Springfield.

"The unit will be stationed in the Sinai Peninsula," said detachment commander Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Harper, of Miller. "Our primary mission will be aerial observation in support of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). The mission of the MFO is to supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace and employ best efforts in the event of any violation of its terms."

Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Harper, of Miller, at right, commander of Detachment 3, Company I, 185th Theater Aviation Company, receives a handshake and private words from Missouri National Guard adjutant general Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner at the Missouri Guard unit's departure ceremony in Springfield on Jan. 6. [Photo by John McGrath/Missouri National Guard]

Harper deployed with Sgt. 1st Class Troy Peterson, also of Miller. Also among the crew is Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bradley Turley, of Trimble, Sgt. Randy Stewart, of Hurley, and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas Hazelrigg, of Springfield.

All but Stewart are veterans of overseas deployments. Harper and Turley deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2008 to 2009, flying the fixed-wing, twin-engine C-23 Sherpa aircraft.

"The Missouri National Guard is particularly proud of this detachment," said Lt. Rachelle Thomas, with 3rd Battalion, 135th Theater Aviation Battalion in Lebanon, higher headquarters for the unit.

Thomas said that in 1991, Missouri was the first to deploy C-23 aircraft and crews to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In 2003, the company was the first to deploy in support of Operation Enduring-Iraqi Freedom. They deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom again in 2006, and for a third time in 2008, bringing the detachment's total combat hours flown to over 6,000.

"These deployments have been intertwined by many other mobilizations in support of hurricanes, oil spills and humanitarian relief efforts in Central and South America, and multiple missions in support of state emergency duties to include wild fires, tornados, floods and ice storms," said Thomas.

The detachment led the nation in 2011 for total C-23 hours flown, including all units serving worldwide, bringing this group a wealth of Sherpa experience in which to complete its mission of ferrying people and cargo throughout the Sinai Peninsula.

"This is a new theater of operations for us," said Harper. "It will be interesting."

In total, the detachment is a nine-person unit, divided into four warrant officers and five enlisted flight engineers whose missions include conducting air movement operations, re-supply, parachute drop and casualty evacuation. Four members of the detachment remain in Missouri to fulfill stateside missions.

"The sun does not set on the Missouri National Guard," said Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri Guard, noting soldiers and airmen are deployed to Qatar, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe in addition to providing assistance for neighbors in times of distress.

"We're here to support you," said Danner to deploying members of the group at their formal departure. The unit is projected to return to Springfield later this year.

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