1108th Links Gulfport To Iraqi War Zone

Joe Hinds made some final adjustments to the propeller engine on a blackhawk helicopter. The blackhawk was about to go on an 1108th test flight over Gulfport. Soon, a Louisiana National Guard unit would fly it over the Iraqi desert.

"Something like this comes along," the mechanic said, "we get really intense, really detailed on what we're doing."

Patrick Boudreaux was the pilot on the test flight. His co-pilot was Hal Jenkins. They understood the importance of their mission. What they simulated in Gulfport would help U.S. troops in Iraq.

"Even though we aren't over there supporting it directly," said Jenkins, "we are indirectly supporting the war effort here in Gulfport, Mississippi."

Col. Gervis Parkerson heads the 1108th AVCRAD unit.

"Don't get the impression that the boys left here aren't involved with the war effort," he said from his office.

The 1108th has 57 members repairing helicopters near Kuwait. It has 130 people in its Gulfport hangar. They do maintenance work on many of the National Guard blackhawk helicopters headed to the Iraqi conflict.

"Even though they're not deployed," the colonel said, "the one's that are left back, they're still working on equipment that is deployed."

Before Hal Jenkins piloted the blackhawk into the air, he talked about his role in Operation Enduring Freedom.

"It's pretty exciting when you know you're supporting the war effort," he said, "even though you're not there at the time. But these assets are going for the war purpose. It's pretty exciting."

Cliff Long said it's even more exciting near the front lines. Long is with the 1108th. He was at the Gulfport hangar on Friday, wrapping up two weeks of rest and relaxation. The rest was important, because when Long goes back to Kuwait, he'll join a unit that has to repair military helicopters 24 hours a day.

"We have to get them back as soon as possible because these are the workhorse of the Army," said Long. "These are the workhorses of Army aviation. We have to get these aircraft back as soon as possible."

Long returns to his overseas deployment on Sunday. He hasn't been told when his Gulfport unit would return to South Mississippi.