Brig. Gen. James M. Robinson, Missouri National Guard assistant adjutant general, welcomes home members of Detachment 1, Company I, 185th Theater Aviation Company to Springfield after their seven month deployment to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Seated from left, are Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Harper, Sgt. 1st Class Troy Peterson, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas Hazelrigg, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bradley Turley and Sgt. Randall Stewart. (Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)
By Matthew J. Wilson
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - The Missouri National Guard welcomed home five of its Citizen-Soldiers from Detachment 3, Company I, 185th Theater Aviation Company on Tuesday at the old airport terminal building.
Missouri Guard assistant adjutant general, Brig. Gen. James M. Robinson, said he was pleased to be among those on hand to welcome home these Soldiers after a successful deployment.
"Anytime you bring everybody home safely it's a good day, but it's an especially good day when you see the Families here and everybody is excited to see their loved one home," Robinson said. "We're glad to have these Soldiers back and are very proud of the work they did."
Although the celebration was for a small detachment, Robinson said it's important to recognize the accomplishments of all returning Guardsmen with a welcome home ceremony.
"It's important if it were just one Guardsman or 1,000," Robinson said. "Everyone is important and numbers don't matter. What does matter is that we got them all home safely."
The Missouri Army Guard unit operates C-23 Sherpas, which are transport planes, and has been deployed to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt in support of overseas contingency operations for seven months.
"Sometimes the public forgets that we are serving in the Sinai," Robinson said. "But it's just as important of a mission and when they are gone from their Families, they are just as gone."
The unit's primary mission was aerial observation in support of the 12-nation Multinational Forces and Observers.
The Multinational Force and Observers is an international peacekeeping force overseeing the terms of a 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and its neighbor, Israel, since 1981.
The detachment also provided transportation for VIPs, other passengers and cargo, as well as re-supply throughout Egypt and Israel. While deployed, theses Guardsmen flew more than 300 accident-free hours and safely transported 1,500 passengers and 325,000 pounds of cargo in a mountainous desert environment where they encountered dust storms, extreme heat and political unrest.
The unit was under the command of Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Harper, a pilot who lives in Miller. Harper said he felt blessed to return every member of the detachment to their Families after a successful mission.
"We've had good support from back home and this was a really good team to deploy with," Harper said. "It was a good mission. We received nothing but praise from all of our customers over there on all of our missions. Our guys worked tirelessly - they never turned down or missed a mission whether it was hauling people or cargo, or performing observation."
Harper said while deployed, he saw a new parliament selected in Egypt, then saw it disbanded, and then the election of a president.
"It was a very interesting time in the whole Egyptian-Israeli region due to all the unrest and state of revolution," Harper said. "We got to experience all of the difficulties of trying to operate in a country without a government. That was probably our biggest challenge."
Although they never received any direct fire, Harper said the unit did encounter some protests that included rock throwing and tire burning, as well as road and runway blocks.
Now Harper is ready to catch up with his Family.
"We all miss our Families more than anything else - they are the heroes," he said.
Rounding out the detachment were pilots Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas Hazelrigg, who lives in Springfield, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bradley Turley, who lives in Trimble, and flight engineers Sgt. 1st Class Troy Peterson, who lives in Miller, and Sgt. Randall Stewart, who lives in Hurley.
Peterson said he was overjoyed to be home with his loved ones.
"I can't even explain how great it is to see my Family - it's just so fabulous and I'm really happy right now." Peterson said. "It seems like it's been a long seven months, but it actually hasn't been. I'm glad that my Family is all OK and nothing really happened while I was gone."
As the senior enlisted member of the deployment, Peterson was proud to say the detachment's mission was a success.
"We did our part to help keep the peace in that region," he said.
The highlight of the deployment for Peterson was the time he got to spend building the bonds of brotherhood with his four fellow Missouri Guardsmen.
"It's a friendship we'll have for the rest of our lives," said Peterson, who has one previous deployment from 2008-2009 to Kosovo. "They are the best group of fellows that I've had the privilege of knowing."
Now that he's home, the first thing Peterson said he'd like to do is go out for a Family meal of steak or spicy Mexican food.
Stewart also was overwhelmed by the chance to once again see and hold his children.
"It's obvious - the best thing is being able to see my kids and my Family," Stewart said.
His immediate goal was to get home with his Family as soon as possible and fire up the barbecue grill.
Smooth was how Stewart described the deployment.
"We didn't have any issues," he said. "We did some work with the Egyptian and Israeli governments - when they would have their meetings, we'd fly their VIPs to get them together wherever they were meeting. All in all it was a really good mission."
The opportunity to work with the 11 other nations supporting the Multinational Forces and Observers was the best part of the deployment for Stewart.
"There are armies there from all over the world and the opportunity to get immersed in those cultures and to work with those people was a blessing," he said.
The unit previously deployed in support of Desert Shield Desert Storm in 1991 and to Operation Iraqi Freedom at Ali-Al-Salem and Logistics Support Area Anaconda, Joint Base Balad, Iraq in 2003-2004, 2006-2007 and 2008-2009. There, they provided theater airlift support throughout the entire Operation Iraqi Freedom area of Operations including, Iraq and Kuwait.
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Missouri National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Troy Peterson hugs his wife following a welcome home ceremony for Detachment 1, Company I, 185th Theater Aviation Company at the old aiport terminal building in Springfield. As a member of the detachment, Peterson served for seven months at the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. (Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)