Nevadans prepare for first overseas deployment

FALLON - Seventeen members of Nevada's 717th Medical Air Ambulance Company were in Fallon for immunizations in preparation for a six-month mission to Kosovo and Macedonia.

The mission to war-torn Kosovo will be the guard unit's first overseas deployment, and they will be the only air medical evacuation team available.

The Nevadans were joined by 30 members of the New Mexico contingent of the 717th.

"I've been deployed for six months before to Macedonia when I was in the active-duty Army," said Staff Sgt. Saul Garcia from the Northern Nevada unit. "It's much harder now, though, because I'm married and have an 11-month- old little girl. Her birthday is in September and I'm hoping she'll be walking by then E before I leave."

"It's going to be hard having him gone, " said Jennifer Garcia, who has lived in Nevada for two years. "I know some of the other aviation wives and they will be some support, but I plan on spending most of the time he's away with my parents in Arizona and visiting my three brothers in Utah and Texas."

With the leave date approximately two months away, preparation is reaching the finishing stages to ready the soldiers and their families for the six-month mission.

"I remember when my mother was pregnant with my little brother," said Chris Garrison, whose brother Capt. Richard Ferguson, of Carson City, is deploying. "She was worried that he would be sent to war and now he is going. I was mostly worried about being able to contact him and now I know that the Guard's Family Support Program and the Red Cross will be able to help us. "

Ferguson is one of six helicopter pilots going overseas. "I realize the family members are concerned. As for the soldiers, I think we're all pretty much excited about being able to help out in such a devastating situation as the one in Kosovo."

"This is my first deployment and I'm very excited about it," said Juan Bustamante, staff sergeant from the New Mexico unit. "I've been in the Guard for 18 years and I look at this as my last hurrah."

Staff Sgt. Bustamante is married with two grown daughters and says they are supportive and proud.

"One of my daughters will move back home with her mother to help out while I'm away, which gives me some peace of mind."

The soldiers received multiple vaccinations at the medical station, and went through 12 other processing stations, including pay, family support, records, security clearance and employer support.

The 717th will be stationed at two bases - Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and Camp Able Sentry in Macedonia. It will supply emergency airlift support for locals and 6,000 members of NATO's military forces.

"We'll probably be called to at least two emergencies a day, according to the crews that we'll be replacing," said Capt. Ferguson. "They could be anything from severe wounds in an adult to a small baby experiencing respiratory failure."

The combined Nevada/New Mexico 717th Company will be the first National Guard Unit to enter the Balkan region bringing its own helicopters, pilots, flight crews, medics and support personnel.

Most recently they rescued an injured Tahoe-Douglas firefighter who fell while hiking near Sierra At Tahoe ski area.

Last fall, the 717th flew to the rescue of 50 British tourists who were critically injured following a tour bus accident in Tonopah. The three 717th Blackhawks rushed patients to both Washoe Medical Center in Reno and to University Medical Center in Las Vegas.


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