The troops are from the 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment Unit, which is located near the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport. They left for Afghanistan back in May for a year-long deployment.
Chelsa Hopper, a soldier from Pendleton and daughter of Dusty and Monica Curtiss of Helix, who didn’t deploy with the group, is home safe for the holidays, but isn’t completely happy about it.
“Them being there without me is awful. It's like letting your family down. Them leaving and going through equally difficult and amazing moments together but without you, it's like losing half your family,” said Hopper.
The Pendleton soldiers will be deployed in Afghanistan and Germany anywhere from 9 months to 11 months, for security reasons, an exact return date isn’t given.This unit deploys once every three and a half to four and a half years. This unit's last deployment was 2015-16 in Iraq and Kuwait. The main mission of this unit is transporting equipment, supplies, and troops out of Afghanistan. After closing their base in Afghanistan, some soldiers were sent to Germany because they are taking part in training events that require Chinook helicopters for cargo purposes. The soldiers not in Germany were dispersed to other Afghan bases where they are closing them down and sending soldiers home.
Hopper previously deployed in 2015-16 and spent most of her deployment working as a flight operations specialist. “Most of it is not like the movies. Most of my work is done behind the scenes,” she said. The hardest part about being deployed for her was being away from family. “Experiencing things that nobody else gets to experience. Doing and seeing things that less than one percent of our country do. I got to meet amazing people that became my family and that was the best part,” said Hopper.
Although Hopper is not deployed, Spc Bianca Hayden is. Hayden is an aircraft gunner. She is in charge of sensitive items, weapons, loading the aircraft, and flies about every other day. “I have learned a lot about my job on this deployment because I am doing it everyday,” said Hayden.
One of Hayden's favorite experiences on the deployment so far has been the places she has seen, “I love seeing historical places,” she said. She even got a chance to fly over Alexander the Great's castle, or what's left of it. Hayden has been in four different countries over the last three months, including: Afghanistan, Germany, Poland, and Latvia. Hopper did not get to travel or see historical sights while she was deployed. Her experience was different in Iraq. It was, “Hot, dusty, and simple,” she said
Hayden and Hopper both agree that deployments are important. “I'm already ready to go on my next deployment, wherever that may be,” said Hayden. She also believes that it is important to have good relationships with other countries. Both of them look forward to continuing their military career.
The Pendleton troops who were deployed to Afghanistan have been dispersed to other countries, quarantined, and do not know their return date. Covid-19 has severely impacted this deployment, but the Pendleton troops remain resilient and continue to do what they need to do to complete their mission and get American soldiers out of Afghanistan.