FORT HOOD, Texas – Soldiers and aviators of 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Combat Aviation Brigade, Virginia Army National Guard, successfully conducted mobilization and final readiness checks for their year-long deployment to the Republic of Kosovo.
The unit will serve as the aviation task force for the NATO-led Kosovo Force, also known as KFOR, Regional Command-East, supporting the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters. Since the end of the Kosovo War in 1999, NATO KFOR troops have conducted peacekeeping operations while diplomatic efforts continue between Kosovo and Serbia.
Upon completion of an air operations assessment, Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Edwards, commanding general of First Army Division West, visited the aviation battalion at North Fort Hood to thank them for following through with their call to federal active-duty service.
“The KFOR mission consists of a historical, multinational partnership. 2-224th has been called up to not only serve as the next aviation battalion for this mission, but also to represent the United States Army alongside our NATO allies,” said Edwards. “What you do as Soldiers from the Virginia Army National Guard is challenging enough as it is, and our team couldn’t be any prouder of the hard work and readiness you’ve demonstrated during your mobilization here at North Fort Hood. On behalf of Division West and Army aviators, we wish you a successful mission and safe return from your deployment.”
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Matthew C. Lewis, battalion commander of the 2-224th Aviation Regiment, said the unit would be “part of the larger lift component in RC-E that provides the aerial mobility and CASEVAC capability to the higher command, allowing freedom of maneuver throughout the region.”
Lewis was pleased with North Fort Hood’s training facilities and support provided by First Army’s observer, coach/trainers, or OC/Ts. After looking back at what his battalion went through last year, he shared his thoughts about his young Soldiers deploying to KFOR for the first time.
“Mission success for our Soldiers would be: one, they have gone over there and made a difference for Kosovo; two, they have made a difference for themselves — better physically, spiritually, and professionally; and three, they have made the unit better,” said Lewis. “That’s what I want them to walk away with at the end of our mission. And, I think all of that will become a life experience where they can look back 30 years from now and say, ‘I am glad I did that.’”
Spc. Paul D. Kelly, a Black Hawk mechanic assigned to 2-224th, joined the KFOR deployment to begin his career in aviation and honor his late father, U.S. Army Col. Paul M. Kelly, a distinguished Army aviator and former battalion commander of 2-224th who was last assigned to Joint Force Headquarters, Virginia Army National Guard, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I volunteered for this mission because I wanted the experience, and I always wanted to get into aviation eventually,” said Kelly. “On the civilian side, I actually just finished college, and I plan on pursuing a full-time position with this unit. I figured this would be the best time for me to come in and really learn my job. I am also looking forward to see Kosovo — to see that part of the world. I’ve never traveled outside the U.S., so this will be a cool experience.”
Kelly’s father served in the Army National Guard for 25 years and is a recognized Fallen Hero by the National Guard Bureau and Department of Defense for his honorable service and sacrifice during a flight mission over Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 20, 2007. Col. Kelly is also survived by his wife Maria, and his other son, John Joseph, who still support the unit’s family readiness group and Gold Star families.
Sgt. Kayla Jackson, an Army aviation operations specialist for 2-224th, expressed her appreciation for the mobilization.
“This will be my first ever overseas deployment, so I am very excited, nervous, and all of those things,” said Jackson. “It’s definitely been a whirlwind of experience completed with training, COVID protocols, safety checks and evaluations by the OC/Ts, but so far my team and I have been very resilient. I am definitely feeling ready to go to Kosovo.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brandon D. Frost, an Army aviator from Detachment 2, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment assigned to the 2-224th for the KFOR mission, shared what he expects for his first deployment.
“My mission as a medical evacuation pilot is to be able to get into helicopter flight along with our assigned flight surgeon in 15 minutes or less, the moment we receive a call to execute from command approval,” said Frost. “In Kosovo, our flight operations will be capable of providing 24-hour medevac support with our assigned NATO forces.”
Frost said he looks forward to serving in Kosovo.
“From what I hear, it’s gorgeous terrain over there, so lots of great flying — I am looking forward to that. I should be coming up on pilot in command responsibilities, so starting on that progression is something I am looking forward to as well,” he said. “As far as working with our assigned contingents, I understand language barriers may pose some challenges in the beginning, but I am confident we will build a shared understanding in how we will train and operate together while we are over there. Our unit morale is very good right now, and I think we are ready to do our mission in real life.”
Division West OC/Ts of the 3rd Battalion, 351st Aviation Regiment, 166th Aviation Brigade, provided the past month’s training support to 2-224th’s mobilization.
“Our primary focus with the 2-224th was to develop a strong partnership leading up to this mobilization that ultimately led to a highly trained unit,” said Lt. Col. Curtis J. Unger, battalion commander of the 3-351st TSBN. “We do that by simulating an operational environment, stressing their systems and processes in a manner that allows them to see themselves in terms of strengths and weaknesses.”
“The 2-224th came very prepared, so they have made our jobs a lot easier this year,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Pedro Lopez, command sergeant major of 3-351st TSBN. “As the saying goes for any mission planning, ‘Always be prepared for the unknown.’ The training that we gave them was harder than what they were really expecting, considering the location that they are going to. Yet, they always listened to us and took our advice with no issues.”
Maj. Robert H. Wells, S-3 operations officer and OC/T from 3-351st TSBN, also observed and coached operations personnel of the 2-224th throughout the mobilization.
“The unit was extremely professional, willing to learn, and motivated to perform at a high level of readiness every day,” said Wells.