JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- Soldiers stand quietly at attention, and as the chaplain begins his opening statement, rotor blades and engines roar on the airfield less than a 100 feet away.
The new unit -- C/7-101, an active duty Medevac unit based out of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, which is taking over for Oregon’s C/7-158 Medevac -- has just been called in for a mission.
“I apologize, but that’s what we do,” says pilot and Oregon Medevac commander Major Vallee, 37, of Eugene, Ore.
Soldiers stand at rest as the Transfer of Authority ceremony breaks until the helicopters fly away.
Within 10 minutes the airfield is once again silent and the ceremony continues.
Praise for Oregon’s C/7-158 having fulfilled:
- 3,000 safe flight hours
- 375 life saving missions
- 890 patients transported
Goals completed for Major Vallee:
- "I wanted everyone to get home safely."
- "I wanted to have a successful mission and go home proudly."
During the ceremony, Vallee and 1st Sgt. Travis Powell furl the Oregon Medevac unit's flag as a symbol of the mission they are relieving.
“It was pretty meaningful to me,” says Vallee about covering his unit’s flag, which will no longer fly in Iraq, with an army green cover.
The ceremony ends with the new pilot and commander, Maj. Brady Gallagher, 34, of Culman, Ala., and his unit unfurling their company flag as a symbol of assuming command.
For soldiers, like Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Hill, 33, of Beaverton, Ore., (at right) this is the end of one deployment and the beginning of another.
As Oregon soldiers return home, Hill takes this opportunity to extend with a New Hampshire Medevac unit. “It’s my old unit," says Hill. “I wouldn’t have extended with anyone else.”
For the rest of Oregon soldiers, this represents the end of a long journey.
“I get to go home,” says Sgt. Justin Picard, 22, of Pendleton, Ore., part of Echo Company, an Oregon unit of fuelers and maintainers that supports Medevac. “It means I am one step closer to seeing my little brothers and sisters.”
Cali Bagby embedded with the Oregon Army National Guard from the 41st Infantry for KVAL.com. Her work has been published in the Washington Post and the Eugene Weekly.
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