BROOKSVILLE — Spc. Kenneth Germer was a popular fellow Wednesday at the ceremonial sendoff for his Florida National Guard unit.
As members of his family held up their cameras, he happily posed for snapshots in front of one of 10 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters he will accompany to the Middle East this summer.
On Friday, Germer and 80 of his fellow soldiers in the 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment, Company C, based at the Hernando County Airport, will be shipping out, first to Fort Sill, Okla., for training, and finally to Iraq, where they will spend most of the next year in support of ground troop missions.
For Germer and many others in the unit, it will be their first overseas deployment.
"Although there are a lot of unknowns, I'm looking forward to the experience," said Germer, 20, who is a systems mechanic for the Black Hawk squadron. "It's going to be hard work, but this is what we've trained for."
Germer said that the only thing he will likely regret is the time spent away from his fiancee, Jessica Clark. The New Port Richey couple plan to get married in October 2009.
"We've never been away from each other this long, so it's going to take some getting used to," Clark said. "It's going to be tough not having him around."
First Sgt. Chris Downey, a member of the 244th, knows well the challenges his fellow soldiers will face. Downey, who accompanied the unit to Iraq in 2004, said that in addition to braving dust storms and summertime temperatures that typically exceed 130 degrees, the daily workload can be hectic. Some flight crews will likely log more than 500 hours a month in the air.
"It takes some getting used to," said Downey, who at age 43 is old enough to be a father to many of his soldiers. "That's why I tell them to work smarter, not harder."
Although the majority of the Black Hawk unit's missions will revolve around transporting troops and equipment, some will likely involve flying through combat zones.
Allen Stanek, an aviation mechanic from Clermont, said he was confident he was going to return home safe.
"These are people that I have complete trust in," said Stanek, 20. "We've had good training and great leadership. We're going to do a good job over there, and then we're all going to come home."
On Friday, when the unit departs, the National Guard Armory on Spring Hill Drive will be open only to family members. But the public is invited to attend a special sendoff at Anderson Snow Park that will be visible to the soldiers as they fly over about 9 a.m.
Organizers ask that participants show up no later than 8:30 a.m. Friday wearing a red shirt and bring an American flag. For information about the sendoff, call Barbara Newlin, 799-9750.
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or 848-1435.