With their families watching, about 50 members of the California National Guard took off from Mather Air Force Base at 9 a.m. today aboard Blackhawk helicopters bound for Fort Hood, Texas, to train for deployment to Afghanistan.
Bernadette Fenwick of Elk Grove huddled with her daughters as the helicopter carrying her 44-year-old husband, Mike, taxied the runway and lifted into the air.
"It's hard, but I think we're more prepared than other families," said Fenwick, 43, who retired from a career in the military.
The deployed soldiers from the California Army National Guard's Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, will cover Western Afghanistan providing helicopter medical evacuation support, 1st Lt. Jan Bender said.
"Many of the crew chiefs, flight medics and pilots have civilian skills that give them an advantage in this environment," he said. "They're EMTs, they're firefighters, they're medics."
The soldiers will practice medical evacuations for about two months in Fort Hood before a year-long stint in Afghanistan. The president announced in his State of the Union address that the United States will withdraw half of its 68,000 troops in Afghanistan in a year.
Robert Wright, 34, from Ione deployed for his fourth tour. His wife and son, Laura and Kode, took pictures as the helicopters left the air base.
"It makes me proud that my husband's going to go serve again," Laura said.
Call The Bee's Dan Hill, (916) 321-1067.