BROOKSVILLE — For nearly a decade now, service in the Florida National Guard has meant far more than mopping up after the occasional hurricane.
On Sunday, back since April from their second combat tour in Iraq, members of the Army National Guard's 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion assembled with friends and family for official acknowledgement of their sacrifices.
"You come time and time again," said Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, the state's adjutant general, describing the balancing act that every member of the armed services must perform. "If you've got your Guard, your family and your employer a little upset with you, you've got it about right."
About 70 members of the battalion were in Brooksville for the event at Nature Coast Technical High School, which included an awards ceremony, food and games for the kids. Senior officers did their best to find words for the things that have come to define their lives.
"Duty. Honor. Country. Freedom. Liberty," said Lt. Col. Patrick Bossetta, the unit's former commanding officer. "For us, those aren't words. They are the very canons that define how we decide how to live our lives. This is why we put our families, jobs and careers aside to serve."
The 10-ship battalion is made up of UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. During combat tours, soldiers flew more than 10,000 accident-free combat flight hours.
Four soldiers — Sgt. Matthew Giorgio, Sgt. Mathew Griggs, Sgt. Dale St. Hilaire and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Mason — were recognized for deploying three times. Soldiers with 500 or more combat hours or 1000 or more aircraft hours were also acknowledged.
Capt. Randy McCreary relinquished command of the battalion to 1st Lt. Joshua Damera. The event ended with the change-of-command ceremony.
McCreary, who was promoted to the rank of major at the event, served as leader of the unit for a little over two years.
"I would do it all over again with the same guys," he said.
Speaking after the ceremony, he expressed gratitude for the kindness of Hernando residents over the past two years.
"Thank the citizens for all their support," he said.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.