Night Stalkers re-visit USS Kitty Hawk

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http://news.soc.mil/releases/News Archive/2009/February/090227-01.html

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Just over seven years ago, Soldiers from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) boarded the USS Kitty Hawk underway to launch Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan.

On Jan. 29, Soldiers from the unit’s 4th Bn. at Fort Lewis, Wash., boarded the Navy vessel in Bremerton, Wash., before another quickly approaching date in the ship’s history. America’s oldest active warship is scheduled to be decommissioned from Navy service this spring.

When Night Stalker 1st Sgt. Paul Hutchings learned the USS Kitty Hawk was in port so close to Fort Lewis, he immediately began taking steps to plan a visit for his Soldiers.
Of the 38 who attended, only four were part of that initial push supporting the War on Terror.

“With the relationship that this Regiment has with that ship I couldn't let it go without saying goodbye,” he said. “I thought that this would make an excellent non-commissioned officer professional development opportunity to re-cage our younger non-commissioned officers as to what Night Stalkers had done in the not to distant past.”

It was also an opportunity to show the Soldiers some of the challenges of working off an aircraft carrier, a task that the 160th must always be prepared to implement.

Immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, a contingent of Night Stalkers and their unique special operations helicopters were among the first American troops and equipment headed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Aviators and crews went on to conduct numerous strategic missions in Afghanistan supporting special operations ground forces in those next few weeks. Though the mission is still classified, the 160th SOAR(A) executed the longest helicopter air assault in history during this initial deployment from the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk. The mission was an outstanding success, requiring the crews to conduct a 1,300-mile assault while enduring an astounding 15 continuous flight hours.

1st Sgt. Timothy Overbey remembers this mission well because he was among the team of Warriors that had become part of history.

“After so many years of just training, we were finally getting to put it to use,” he said. That included joint training preparing both the Army and Navy for working together in an operational environment.

Overbey also had memories of living aboard the USS Kittyhawk. It was quite a different scene from often sparse living conditions on land at that time.

“The close sleeping arrangements was something that I don’t think anyone gets accustomed to,” he reflected.

But that was tolerable when you considered that “we could take showers whenever we wanted, the food was always hot and we really didn’t have to deal with bugs that are normally associated with being on land.”

Hutchings worked for more months collecting historical unit documents to put together a truly educational trip for his Soldiers. He said it is important for Night Stalkers tounderstand thatthe 160th has been making history since it's inception over 25 years ago.

“I understood a little of what happened on the ship from 1st Sgt. Hutchins brief,” said Staff Sgt. Louis Horvath. “But actually going on the ship and seeing the challenges they had put everything in perspective.”

It was also important for Hutchings Soldiers to learn about how the unit works with other services like the Navy to accomplish the unique missions Night Stalkers are entrusted to accomplish.

“I had never heard anything specific about the mission but didn’t realize how closely we worked with the Navy and are still doing so today,” said Sgt. Rodney Hardy.

Spec. Cameron Vaughn echoed those sentiments. “I learned that our work with the Navy then and the fact we still work with them today shows we can’t do it alone and it’s a team effort.”

These are exactly the thoughts Hutchins wanted his men to realize and appreciate.

“We live in the shadows of great men and deeds and if we forget where we've been, we'll lose sight of where we’re going,” he explained. “We need to remember our accomplishments, both good and bad, capitalize off our achievements and learn from our mistakes in order to be successful in future operations.”

Hutchings said this visit was an especially important reminder to the Night Stalkers that have been part of continuous combat rotations for seven years now. “Despite all of the great and wondrous things that are being done today, they left their mark on the Regiment's history,” Hutchings said.

He also wanted the new generation of Night Stalkers to understand that their unit was called upon at the beginning of the War on Terror. “It hasn't always been endless rotations for this unit,” Hutchings said. “Before the dust had settled from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon there were Night Stalkers deployed in harms way.”
Today, the Night Stalkers remain actively engaged in combat operations at multiple locations supporting both Operations Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.


The USS Kittyhawk underway in support of Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan in 2001. 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment helicopters are visible on the vessel’s flight deck. (Courtesy photo by 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Public Affairs)
 
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