Jennifer Audette is all too familiar with the cost of war.
As a program manager at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany, she helps coordinate care for wounded soldiers, many of whom are returning from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Audette’s husband, Capt. Mike Audette, 35, is a helicopter pilot for the Army National Guard 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation, which is headed to Iraq later this year.
Mike Audette is one of 160 local members of the assault helicopter battalion who were joined by hundreds of friends and family Sunday at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds for their official farewell ceremony.
“He’s going to do his job. It’s never easy, I think, for anybody to have their family member go for a year,” Jennifer Audette said. “I’m very proud of New York National Guard. I’m very proud of my husband.”
Mike Audette said he’s been in the military 13 years. Although he has
served overseas before, this is his first trip to Iraq. He and his wife live in Clifton Park.
“We’ve been preparing for a year for this,” he said. “Everybody is pretty motivated and excited to go.”
The unit consists of about 300 soldiers from bases at Albany International Airport and Ronkonkoma on Long Island. Another group of soldiers from Missouri will join the unit.
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Albert Ricci said the unit will deploy this week to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where it will train before being sent to central Iraq for about nine months. The unit includes 30 Black Hawk helicopters.
“We have trained intensely for the last year,” Ricci said. “I’m confident that when we all arrive back here safely next year, everyone will be proud of the job we have done.”
Ricci said the battalion’s mission will include troop movement, delivery operation, VIP guest support and whatever else commanders in Iraq require.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, the state adjutant general, had some advice for the Iraq-bound soldiers.
“Stay together, watch each other, talk to each other and stay focused. We have your back here with your lovely families. We have a program and a network here that will take care of them. You take care of each other,” he said. “Sometimes it could become easy to compromise standards. Don’t do it. Not once.”
Brig. Gen. Michael Swezey, currently the 53rd Troop Command commander, is a past commander of the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation and was also invited to speak at the event.
“To your great credit, when your country called in its time of need, you answered,” he said as he was standing in front of a large American flag. “In my opinion, there is no finer calling, and there is no finer measure of your work as selfless citizens than by the actions you are about to undertake.”
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