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Amazing work

By Sgt. Wayne Woolley, N.J. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Public Affairs
Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark Olsen, 177th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Delilah Harris and her husband Staff Sgt. Timothy Harris sing the National Anthem during the 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion Welcome Home ceremony on Jan. 16.

The hoopla of their War Memorial homecoming over, the Soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion and Detachment 1, Bravo Company, 628th Aviation Support Battalion, have settled back into life in New Jersey and shaken away those last bits of Iraqi dust.

In the days after the troops from both units went through demobilization at Fort Dix, the two commanders, Col. John W. Scannell and Capt. John Pellington, looked back on the deployment.

Scannell said the Battalion overcame big hurdles to be ready for the Iraq deployment. After the unit deployed to Iraq in 2005, attrition had left it with a severe shortage of pilots in command, air mission commanders and door gunners. At one point early in pre-mobilization, trainers gave the unit's leaders this blunt assessment: "You guys will never be ready."

"I knew on paper, they were correct, we had a lot of holes," Scannell recalled.

He knew something else: "We had the kind of people who would develop a plan then make it happen."

He was right. The unit finished its Iraq deployment with kudos spanning the various chains of command and from all components and branches.

In the end, the Jersey aviators were able to transport more than 11,000 Soldiers and Marines and give them a break from navigating Iraq's dangerous roads. The unit had a 96 percent mission launch rate, a major accomplishment in a place that's synonymous with sandy grit.

Scannell said he was most proud that the battalion, which numbered about 250 troops, helped other units that came through its base near Al Kut, about 80 miles southeast of Baghdad. The battalion helped other units track down their mail, fix their equipment as well as use their medical clinic.

"We took in a lot of stray cats," Scannell said. "Anybody who came to our door, we helped out."

The 31-Soldier aviation support detachment also enjoyed plenty of success, according to Pellington.

That unit overcame inexperience among its ranks and went on to perform several maintenance feats no one in Army aviation had seen in Iraq in a long time.

The unit completed full salvage operations on three downed aircraft – the first in Iraq since 2004. The full salvage operation meant collecting the wrecked helicopters from the desert floor – and then transporting the birds to a depot and then orchestrating a complete mechanical overhaul. All three of the aircraft – UH-60 Blackhawks – flew again. Two of the Blackhawks, which had collided, needed the entire rear portion rebuilt, a feat the Jersey troops performed in less than two months.

"They did some pretty amazing work under some real tough conditions," Pellington said.

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Volume 35 Number 1 Staff / Information
(c) 2010 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs