Soldiers of Company G, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment file into the pews at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Madison last week.
Soldiers of Company G, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment file into the pews at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Madison last week.
MADISON — A local church hosted a send-off event for National Guard members here last week. 

Members of Company G, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, headquartered in Jackson, conducted a deployment sendoff ceremony last Thursday at St. Matthews United Methodist Church.

Pastor Andy Stoddard said that he was contacted by a member of his church when he was a pastor in Petal.

“Someone I knew form when we lived in Petal called me up and said that they were looking for somewhere in the metro area to host the event,” Stoddard said. “I said it would be our great honor.”

Stoddard said more than 300 people showed up to the event and the reception afterward.

He said the event was largely led by National Guards members. The event acted largely as an information session for friends, family and the public, though prayers were offered for the Battalion’s safety.

“We really just offered the space and some equipment and they handled it from there. It was a wonderful ceremony. They explained what they would be doing and where they would be going and there were also prayers to ask for God’s protection and their safe return,” Stoddard said. “I have a great affinity for our armed forces and am glad we had the opportunity to serve them.”

Lt. Col. Christian Peterson, director of public affairs with the Department of the Army and Air Force Joint Force Headquarters of the Mississippi National Guard, said that approximately 60 soldiers with the battalion are deploying to Afghanistan for about 10 months in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. 

The unit will provide "rotary wing medical evacuation support" using UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters during the deployment. 

“They talked about what they would be doing it really is something amazing. It reminded me of the TV show M.A.S.H. where they would fly in wounded for treatment, though obviously they now have much better technology and equipment now. They have to act quickly and have soldiers lives in their hands,” Stoddard said.

Operation Freedom’s Sentinel is the followup mission to Operation Enduring Freedom in continuation of the Global War on Terrorism.

Peterson said that following the ceremony, the company is traveling to Fort Bliss in Texas to complete required post-mobilization training for the deployment.