Nevada guardsmen headed to Kosovo |

Nevada guardsmen headed to Kosovo

The Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Twenty-two members of the Nevada National Guard’s 717th Medical Company are headed for Kosovo, where NATO forces are helping rebuild fragments of the former Yugoslavia.

The 717th will be the only National Guard airborne medical evacuation unit stationed in Kosovo, Army National Guard Capt. John Fishburn said. In all, 44 soldiers, including 22 from Nevada, are part of the deployment. The Balkan mission is scheduled to last until May.

”We’re the first National Guard medevac unit to pull duty in Kosovo,” Fishburn said in New Mexico Saturday night before taking off for Fort Benning, Ga., on the first leg of the unit’s deployment.

At Fort Benning, the medevac unit will be briefed on the situation in the Balkans, Guard spokesman Tom Koch said. They are being deployed along with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, Fishburn said.

The 717th flies UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. The New Mexico and Nevada groups’ six helicopters – three from each state – have already been shipped.

Families and friends gathered before dawn Sunday to say their farewells to the Nevada guardsmen, who climbed aboard a C-130 Hercules at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Sgt. Derek Cecil said he was excited about the chance to take part in the mission but admitted, ”I’m sorry I’m going to be away from my family for so long.”

The deployment is the longest for a Nevada guard unit the 1991 Gulf War and is the first guard air ambulance unit sent to Bosnia.

”All the waiting, anticipation and stress that has led up to this day is over,” said Cindy Ducharme, wife of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeffrey Ducharme. ”Now we can look forward to them coming home.”

This mission has been planned for months and is not linked to the war on terrorism, said Lt. April Conway, public affairs officer for the Nevada National Guard. Three of the Nevada units UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters were shipped to Bosnia a couple of weeks ago.

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