KUWAIT CITY - As the remaining military forces in Iraq crossed the Iraqi border into Kuwait early morning Dec. 18, Soldiers from the Florida National Guard's 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment were right there with them.
Their mission: provide security for the ground convoys from the air, ensuring all U.S. service members exited Iraq safely.
"I am extremely proud of the Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment, and all of our Soldiers and Airmen who have served in Iraq since 2003," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr., the adjutant general of the Florida National Guard. "It is fitting that since Florida Guardsmen played a key role in the beginning hours of this conflict that we would also be there to close the mission and bring our service members back safely."
About 45 aircraft were involved in the operation at any given time, including Air Force and Navy fighters and command and control aircraft, tankers and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in addition to the 1-111th aircraft and the Army aircraft supporting several military commanders involved in the operation.
Soldiers of the unit's Headquarters and Headquarters Company and Company A conducted convoy clearance operations for the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division as they brought the last of their equipment and approximately 500 Soldiers from Contingency Operating Base Adder in Talil, Iraq, to the Khabari border crossing in Kuwait.
Soldiers from Company B conducted air movement operations from Udairi Army Air Field to Basra. They were also on hand as a quick reaction force, if needed, to bring Soldiers in for additional support if the convoy was attacked.
Soldiers from Company C were available to provide medical evacuation support. This marked one of the final missions of their deployment as the unit transitions back to the U.S. in the coming weeks.
After all of the Florida National Guard aviators landed, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, held a press conference announcing all troops were out of Iraq and Operation New Dawn was complete.
These Florida National Guard Soldiers will stand in history as the last Army aviation unit to fly combat missions in support of Operation New Dawn, he said.
Three of the Florida pilots: Army Capt. Scott Riley, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher Tenaro and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ray Freeman have the distinction of being part of the first National Guard aviation unit deployed to Iraq in 2004 as well as the last National Guard aviation unit to depart Iraq in 2011.
As the war in Iraq ends, Soldiers from Company C are making their way back to the U.S. and to their families after deploying from Florida in early February.
Other Florida National Guard Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment who deployed in late August will continue their deployment in Kuwait until they return to their families sometime in 2012.