<b>HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. </b>- Soldiers and commanders from the Georgia Army National Guard formed a long receiving line on the Hunter Army Airfield tarmac to greet 51 members of the 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment who were returning home after serving 11 months in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Sept. 3.

Among those in the homecoming reception was Lt. Col. Vern Atkinson, facility commander of Army Aviation Support Facility #3 at Hunter who resides at Hunter Army Airfield with the unit.

"It's great to have them back home with no injuries," he said, adding that during their deployment, he rotated between Hunter and the National Guard Center in Decatur, Ga. on assignment. Lieutenant Colonel Atkinson expressed pride in the downrange performance of his unit and said he is eager to have both equipment and crew "re-set" for their next homeland security mission.

The Georgia Guard Soldiers are one of the best Chinook units in the country, according to Col. Brent Bracewell, the Georgia Army National Guard aviation officer and commander, 78th Aviation Troop Command. He said he spreads his assets, 12 Chinook helicopters, to as many locations as possible to support the Homeland Defense mission, adding that six of those Chinooks belong to the 1/169 Aviation and reside at Hunter.

"These guys are amazing," he said. "As Guardsmen, they are here by their own choice; many have worked together for 20 years or more. They are truly professional - dedicated to their work and to each other."

Colonel Bracewell knows first-hand of their talent and commitment to the aviation mission. They respond regularly to whatever duties he assigns with speed and confidence. He said the 3rd CAB commander, Col. Don Galli, said they performed equally as well in Afghanistan. The unit was under the operational control of the 3rd CAB while in the country.

Colonel Galli sent words of appreciation and praise to Col. Bracewell for the 1/169 Aviation's performance and the unit's support during Operation Enduring Freedom.

"They are unmatched in performance and maintenance capabilities," said Col. Galli. "Their ability to generate combat power and launch and recover has been astonishing. They have regularly out flown all other CH-47D companies from other task forces on a monthly basis. They routinely and successfully fly the toughest air assault missions in RC-East [Regional Command East]."

During their 11-month deployment, the unit flew more than 700 combat missions, including 3,000 accident-free combat hours, according to Capt. Mary Beth Merrick, the unit's rear-detachment commander. The unit's six CH-46D Chinook helicopters transported 2,500 short tons of equipment and supplies throughout their battle space.

But commanders are not the only fans of the unit. After de-boarding the plane and turning in equipment, the Soldiers headed to the National Guard hanger at Hunter where cheering friends and Family Members waited eagerly for their arrival.

"Most Family Members were already here attending 'expectation training,'" said Capt. Merrick. "Since they were already in place, waiting to see their Soldiers, we decided not to delay the ceremony to its original time but to hold it a little early. There're a lot of anxious Family Members here; we're all excited to have them home."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16