Alaska soldiers deploy for Afghanistan

Posted: Tuesday, February 01, 2011

FAIRBANKS — The first wave of soldiers from Fort Wainwright scheduled to deploy this week has left for Afghanistan, where Maj. Shane Mendenhall says the men and women will be based mainly in the mountains of the country’s southern region.

About 15 of about 90 soldiers from C Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment deployed Sunday, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. The rest of the air ambulance company will ship out in phases this week, along with 12 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

“We’re happy to be going, but we will miss our families,” said Mendenhall, who commands the unit.

This is his fourth deployment, and second to Afghanistan.

“Every deployment is hard, but the first you don’t know what to expect. This time, I know what to expect,” said his wife, Sara Mendenhall. They have three kids ranging from 9 to 15 years old. “Each time he goes, I get less worried.”

She organizes the Family Readiness Group, a support system for Army spouses and family members. The C company group includes about 40 spouses, she said, and meets once a month. They help each other with things like transportation, child care and even stress and sadness — something worse for first-time deployments, she said.

CW3 Debra Harlow, a Medevac pilot on her third tour, said she plans to use Skype to keep in touch with her two sons, who are 13 and 4, while she is away.

“We’ve been saying goodbye for a week and a half,” said Harlow, whose sons will live in the Lower 48 with their father while she’s gone.

About 200 soldiers from 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, the 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, were scheduled to depart Monday.

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