Local guard unit prepares for Iraq

Tom Balogh had planned to spend his free time this summer on his recently purchased cabin boat. Inst
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Tom Balogh had planned to spend his free time this summer on his recently purchased cabin boat.

The Albany resident bought the craft from his close friend Kevin Ferreira of Rotterdam last year and had looked forward to manning the boat along the Mohawk.

Instead, the Army National Guard staff sergeant and crew chief will spend his summer manning a M240 machine gun on the door of one of 30 UH60 Blackhawk helicopters destined for Iraq sometime before the fall.

And Ferreira, a major in the Guard, will spend his months ensuring Balogh and roughly 450 soldiers deploying with the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment are prepared for the rigors of active duty in a combat zone. The mission will mark the first time the entire unit has been mobilized since they traveled to Bosnia in 2002 and the only time they’ve made the trip together to Iraq.

But if there was a group to be deployed with, Balogh said it would be the members of his battalion. Though he’ll miss his children and his boat, he said his friends will be coming along for the ride.

“If I gotta go, this is the family I want to be with,” he said as he and a handful of soldiers prepared for a training mission Tuesday afternoon at Fort Drum.

In all, the unit will provide about 300 soldiers split between bases at Albany International Airport and Ronkonkoma in Suffolk County. Another group of guardsmen from Missouri will round out the unit, which will spend about 10 months stationed at an airbase outside of Balad.

Part of the purpose in sending the Blackhawk unit is to continue a military effort to move more soldiers and supplies through the air, instead of on the ground, where they often fall prey to roadside bombs. Col. Al Ricci said the Balogh’s battalion will be used for a variety of missions, but moving resources will be a primary focus.

“We’re going to keep soldiers off the ground and move them to operations,” he said.

For three weeks this month, the unit will conduct its annual training at Fort Drum, then spend another two months at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before leaving for the Middle East. The advance training is part of a new Army initiative to limit reserve and national guard mobilizations to no more than a year.

Check back with DailyGazette.com for more on this story or read Thursday’s edition of The Daily Gazette.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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