HENRICO, Va. -- In Henrico's East End, a beehive of activity as citizen-soldiers from across the Commonwealth prepare for a long stretch overseas.
At their unit’s Aviation Support Facility at the Richmond International Airport, a group of pilots from the 224th Aviation Regiment and the 777th Aviation Support Battalion prep their Blackhawk choppers.
“Very durable. Highly reliable. A great joy to fly,” says Black Hawk Pilot CPT Cruz.
“To be in this uniform and serve this nation as we do, I take a lot of pride in that,” says Staff Sergeant Clayton.
Their missions in the Middle East will include troop air assault, casualty evacuation and moving supplies.
“Our job is customer service,” says Warrant Officer 1st Class Addington. “Our job is to get the guys on the ground from point A to point B safely. Or get the guys out of point B to Point A safely.”
When the 80 or so soldiers based in Sandston are mobilized, they will leave on federal active duty sometime around June. Their destination is Kuwait.
“The first time you climb on board and hover in a helicopter is like sitting in a magic carpet,” says Mr. Addington.
This will be Staff Staff Sargeant Clayton’s fourth deployment. He says the most difficult challenge leaving loved ones behind.
“It never gets easy leaving your family,” says Clayton. “Every time I’ve done it, it doesn’t get easier leaving my family any time.”
These units have previously served in Iraq and Kosovo.
“It is an honor. It is quite a humbling experience,” says CPT Cruz. “For myself, it is a condition. You know when you sign up you could be deployed.”
Cruz says being nearly 7,000 miles away for so long is soothed by the support from home.
“Knowing the fact that you have support stateside makes wearing the uniform that much more special and allows us to focus on the mission at hand,” says CPT Cruz.
Warrant Officer Addington, a Blackhawk pilot, says he can think of no greater honor than serving his country.
A feeling shared by his fellow soldiers.
“If that keeps my family and community safe I think it is a pretty noble endeavor,” says Mr. Addington. “Even if you’re not serving in the military. Serve your nation. Serve your community in some way. Give back.”