Forty-seven Arkansas Army National Guardsmen from the Camp Robinson based Detachment 1, Bravo Company, 449th Aviation Support Battalion arrived at Fort Hood, Texas in December in the days before Christmas after a nine-month deployment to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The return of the unit marked the first time in a decade all Arkansas National Guard Soldiers are back on United States soil.
"I am excited, he does not know I am here," said Sgt. 1st Class Mikaela A. Felcher, wife of the unit’s first sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Michael S. Felcher. Sgt. 1st Class Mikaela A. Felcher serves in the Arkansas National Guard and volunteered to assist with the unit’s demobilization at Fort Hood so she could surprise her husband there. The couple is no stranger to deployments, she has three deployments under her belt and he has two.
They represent a seasoned and ready Soldier that is common to the Guard today.
"I was surprised," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael S. Felcher, after being greeted by his wife, "One of the great things about us both being in the Guard; we both understand the sacrifices each other has made as part of our service to our nation."
During the deployment the unit provided theater aviation maintenance for helicopters supporting missions in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East. Soldiers assigned to the unit are highly skilled technicians consisting of airframe and power plant (A&P) mechanics, sheet metal technicians, turbine engine mechanics, propeller and rotor mechanics and aircraft electricians. The skills these and other Guardsmen acquire help improve the workforce here in Arkansas.
The unit performed splendidly during their deployment. Every 350 flying hours Army helicopters must undergo an intense maintenance regiment known as "phase maintenance". It is common for this level of maintenance to take a couple of months.
While deployed, the 449th was able to perform phase maintenance in two to three weeks.
As part of the Arkansas National Guard, the 449th is part of a larger community of Arkansans who have taken an oath to serve both their state and nation. Guardsmen share a unique bond, and are always ready to serve. This includes when one of their own needs support. During this deployment Kali Hardig, the daughter of Sgt. Joseph W. Hardig, a member of the 449th, contracted parasitic meningitis that has a survival rate of less than one percent. While deployed, his unit raised over $2,000 dollars and sent the money to Sgt. Hardig and his family to help cover out-of-pocket expenses.