YUTAN, Neb. - Opportunity is the keyword for 2019 in the Nebraska Army National Guard as Soldiers are taking on new assignments within an airborne infantry battalion. To officially mark the beginning of a new chapter in history, the newly activated 2nd Battalion, 134th Infantry Regiment held a ceremony to unfurl company guidons, Nov. 2, at the Husker Drop Zone near Yutan, Nebraska. Soldiers from the new battalion then conducted an airborne training exercise, parachuting from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, and returning to the Husker Drop Zone.
"It's a big day for the state of Nebraska to have this type of structure back in the state," said Lt. Col. Ted Hanger, commander 2-134th Infantry. "I know General Bohac's enduring priorities are relevant structure, and it does not get any more relevant than an infantry battalion in the U.S. Army."
The new battalion includes six companies, four infantry companies in Nebraska, one infantry company in Indiana, and a forward support company in Nebraska, all of which now wears the "Thunderbird" patch of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, whose other battalions and headquarters all belong to the Oklahoma Army National Guard. The five Nebraska companies and their commanders are as follows:
Alpha Company, Capt. Travis Wahlmeier
Bravo Company, 1st Lt. Dalton Boden
Delta Company, Capt. Matthew Burke
India (Forward Support Company), Capt. Andrew Callahan
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Lt. James Ethier
The new organization has a familiar name in the 134th Infantry Regiment, but it is an entirely new unit without any of the lineage or honors of the past units with that same nomenclature. The battalion is still pending approval for its proposed official unit insignia, and it will unveil the official battalion colors at a later date.
Hanger said while the new unit is not a direct descendant of the old 2-134th Infantry, it does share a past with the Nebraska Soldiers who came before it. He recalled his time in the active duty Army where his former company commander said, "I've never met a bad Soldier from Nebraska."
"It's one of the best compliments I've ever had," Hanger said. "And you guys are all part of that. Everywhere you've gone, everywhere all of our units have gone in support of operations, you did this state and our citizens very proud."
"Today is just the beginning of a new chapter in the Nebraska National Guard, getting this infantry battalion back," Hanger added. "We are the Queen of Battle…for our unparalleled mobility, and we will not let that heritage down."
He concluded his speech by looking toward the future with the assertion that the battalion, "will be the premier fighting organization in the state of Nebraska," and he is proud to be part of it.
Following the ceremony, a handful of the original 100 Soldiers slated to jump had the opportunity to do so before wind speeds became too dangerous. Hanger, who hadn't jumped in more than a decade, was the first airborne Soldier (after the lead jumpmaster) to leap from the Chinook helicopter during the exercise.
"It went well," Hanger said. "We have a very, very good jumpmaster corps in the unit, and they were able to retrain me and make me successful on that jump."
After completing his jump, repacking his shoot and walking back to the area of operations, he was greeted with a huge hug from his son Koen and happy smiles from the rest of his family.
Most of Nebraska's airborne training exercises become family events, as spouses, parents and children come out to watch their Soldiers jump. For this event, Sgt. Robert Hayduk's wife Heather and 8-month-old daughter attended, waiting for his turn on the helicopter.
While the winds kept him grounded for what would have been his sixth or seventh jump of the year (and the 25th airborne jump of his career) Hayduk's spirit remained high about the transition from the 195th Forward Support Company (Special Operations) (Airborne) -- which cased its colors the week before -- to Company I, 700th Brigade Support Battalion (Forward Support Company, 2-134th Infantry).
"I just love it. I've never been anywhere else and I don't really want to go anywhere else," said Hayduk, a petroleum supply specialist for Company I (Forward Support Company). "I'm just really interested in seeing what being infantry support is going to be like. We've been special operations support for I think 12 years the unit's been around, and I think the change of pace will be nice; a little different, a little faster. I'm excited to get out of the armory a little bit and have some fun helping out the infantry guys."
The day's events were more than a year in the making for 1st Lt. James Ethier, commander Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-134th Infantry.
"Today was a special day because it's been a long time coming for us," said Ethier, a former member of Company E, 134th Infantry (Long Range Surveillance). The company cased its colors in August 2018, and many of the Soldiers within that unit have been waiting patiently for this transition to their new unit ever since.
Ethier said the versatility of having an infantry unit -- including positions in the forward support company as well as snipers, mortars, reconnaissance and more -- allows more opportunities for the state.
"With the airborne comes a lot of moving pieces, a lot of coordination," Ethier said. "But this is what most people see, and what will attract people to the unit."
Ethier was fortunate to complete his jump before the winds canceled, and said he joined the Nebraska Army National Guard to, "do exactly this."
"I joined to be an 11A (Infantry Officer); I joined to be Airborne," he said. "Having this come to the state is a big deal to us."