By Sgt. Anna K. PerryJanuary 14, 2010
KATTERBACH, Germany - A quiet hum filled a Katterbach hanger on a chilly evening several days before Christmas. Soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, pulled loved ones close to give final hugs and kisses before departing for a twelve-month Afghanistan deployment Dec. 23. A sense of excitement was evident even under the umbrella of impending good-bye. "I\'ve got butterflies in my stomach, but I'm ready to go," said Spc. Hubert Loper. "Waiting is the worst part," the Dallas, Texas, native said of deploying. "Once I get there I'll be good." Loper, a Chinook mechanic, has deployed twice to Iraq, but this will be his first time in Afghanistan. First Sgt. Philip Paniagua was also itching to get out the door and meet up with the main body of 5-158th troops already on the ground in Afghanistan. "Our flight has been pushed a couple of times now, so at this point I just want to get downrange and start getting the ball rolling," Paniagua said. The postponements left Paniagua without his family during the final hours before he and his Soldiers finally boarded a bus for the airport. The San Antonio, Texas, native said good-bye to his wife and two daughters a few days prior as he did not want his departure to interfere with their planned Christmas trip to London. That left the first sergeant with time to contemplate the mission while his troops mingled with loved ones. "We're among the first people to be going to Afghanistan under the 20,000 troop plus-up, and our situation is a bit unusual because we won't be falling in as a replacement for another unit as the area is only now really being developed," Paniagua said. The 5-158th will operate in western Afghanistan, a region that has been dubbed the "wild west," because until recently there has been a limited U.S. presence in the Afghan provinces bordering Iran. Paniagua said the primary mission of the Soldiers deploying with him will be to provide maintenance support for UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters belonging to the main task force in the western Afghanistan troop surge. "Our job is to launch birds and repair birds to launch them again. We'll be setting up from scratch and establishing our own system. I am looking forward to getting on the ground and seeing how the mission actually unfolds," Paniagua said. This will be the third deployment for Paniagua, who completed two previous tours in Iraq.