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NH Medevac unit headed to Afghanistan hopes for repeat of no casualties

New Hampshire leaders and National Guard commanders bade Godspeed to 45 soldiers Monday, sending them to Afghanistan in a moving ceremony that recognized that many were undertaking their third deployment in eight years.

Within days, the men and women of 238th Medevac Company will meet up with their Michigan counterparts at Fort Hood in Texas, where they will train before arriving in eastern Afghanistan in July.

They are tasked with using helicopters to reach wounded soldiers and civilians and fly them to a medical base for treatment. During deployments in Iraq in 2005 and 2010, the 238th Medevac Company evacuated more than 4,000 people and suffered no casualties.

"You remind us that war doesn't have to be that bad because you go in and save lives," said Gen. William Reddel, the adjutant general in New Hampshire.

As Reddel and others gave speeches, five rows of soldiers stood at ease, clad in desert camouflage. They snapped to attention only when their commander, Capt. Jason Richards, addressed the 400-some family members and guests who attended the deployment ceremony at an Army Aviation airplane hangar on Regional Drive in Concord.

The troops stood in formation in front of a $15 million helicopter and a flag big enough to cover the wall of the hangar. The deployment comes just days after the Taliban announced its spring offensive had begun.

Goffstown resident Spc. Gregory Tufts, 23, a medic, said he hadn't heard about the announcement, but it does not affect his mission.

"Our job is to take care of the injured soldier on the battlefield," he said.

That includes civilians and even enemies, said Tufts, who deployed to Iraq in 2010. "Being a medical unit, we take care of everyone equally. It takes all the politics out of it."

At the end of the ceremony, Sgt. Brian McKay received well wishes from many soldiers. As first sergeant, McKay heads up the enlisted men and women. The 51-year-old is the oldest in the unit.

"There are times I do (feel the years)," he said, "but I don't let them see it."

mhayward@unionleader.com

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