Clad in a dark green flight suit just like his dad’s, 4-year-old Jarod Farnham waved a miniature American flag and sang “I’m Proud to Be an American.”
According to his mother, Jarod wants to be a pilot when he grows up. But right now, he just wants to be near his father, Bruce Farnham, a pilot with the National Guard’s recently deployed C Company 1-106th Aviation Battalion.
“My dad’s in the Army for a year — past Christmas,” Jarod said. “So I had Christmas early.”
Friends and family of C Company 1-106th and Detachment 1, D Company 1-106th gathered at a hotel in Jefferson City on Wednesday for a deployment ceremony.
The 1-106th, based in Jefferson City, comprises 57 men and women, some UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilots and some support forces.
Carole Farnham, Jarod’s mother, said deployment ceremonies like the one held Wednesday help get soldiers’ families together and begin setting up support networks they’ll need while their loved ones are away.
“A lot of these are faces I’ve seen,” Farnham said, looking around the crowded ballroom. “We’re a close-knit group.”
Word of the unit’s activation came about five weeks ago, and soldiers officially reported for duty in Jefferson City on Monday. Some families, like the Farnhams of St. Charles, chose to celebrate Christmas early due to their loved ones’ deployment. However, National Guard officials are hoping the soldiers can remain home for the holidays.
After Wednesday’s ceremony, the soldiers were able to spend time with their families before reporting in Jefferson City again today. The soldiers are currently scheduled to report to Fort Campbell, Ky. for mobilization training in early January. While their ultimate destination has not yet been finalized, many expect to serve in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The plan is that they’ll be home for Christmas,” said Col. Larry Kay, the unit’s brigade commander. “But they’re wearing the green uniform now, and things can change.”
A typical tour of duty, from training to in-country service to demobilization, can last up to 18 months. According to a Missouri National Guard news release, 2,924 soldiers from across the state are currently on active duty.
Spc. Neil Guinn, a 2001 graduate of Hickman High School, received a Missouri state flag at the ceremony for being the youngest member of Detachment 1, D Company. While the thought of activation scared him at first, Guinn said he’s ready and willing to serve — in Iraq or elsewhere.
“Wherever they put me, I’ll be ready for it,” Guinn said.
In contrast with Guinn, a few in the 1-106th Company sport silver hair and knowing smiles. About 10 of them have seen combat together before — as medical helicopter pilots in Operation Desert Storm. Back then, the unit was called the 1267th Medical Air Ambulance Company, and its function was to transport wounded soldiers and medical supplies.
Now, however, the reorganized 1-106th’s focus is transporting active troops and supplies and providing combat support.
It’s becoming more and more common for soldiers to serve in multiple conflicts, Kay said. The flight services provided by the 1-106th make it an especially “high-tempo unit” — one that’s needed often and must be ready to go at any time.
“The strength of our flight program resides with the old gray-headed warrant officers. It’s a privilege for the younger guys to be with them,” Kay said. “Those that have had experience in Southwest Asia before have an advantage in that they can visualize it in their minds. It’s not an unknown for them.”
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Randy Zehnder, a former member of the 1267th who gladly claims the title of “gray-headed warrant officer,” said he expects to return to Iraq with the 1-106th, but thinks the atmosphere will be different this time around.
“If we’re going to be in Iraq, we’ll be far away from where we were last time,” Zehnder said, also noting that his duties as a pilot will change.
The biggest change Zehnder noted, however, is in the family he’s preparing to leave for a second time.
“Before, my kids were 5 and 2, and now they’re 18 and 15,” Zehnder said. “I’m trying to give my youngest as many driving lessons as I can before I leave, and I’m helping my wife with understanding how to pay the bills. I usually do that.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kevin Nowack, a Columbia resident who has served in the National Guard for 23 years, is being deployed for the first time. Nowack said the news of Saddam Hussein’s recent capture was welcomed by his unit, but that the men and women of the 1-106th are resigned to serving an important role in Iraq if sent there.
“Everybody thinks it (the capture) is a step in the right direction, but there’s a lot more to do,” Nowack said. “There’s a lot of die-hards still out there (in Iraq).”
For Nowack, too, the hardest part will be leaving his family — his wife Marcie, and daughters Lily, 4, and Emily, 1.