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Black Horse Unit Recognizes Soldiers, Families During Welcome Home Ceremony

Approximately 195 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers serving with 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, based in Peoria, and Company B, 935th Aviation Support Battalion, based in Kankakee, were welcomed home during a ceremony in Bloomington, April 13. The 106th returned home in February, following a year-long deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. 

“This ceremony marks a historic occasion in the unit,” said Maj. Charles Auer, Operations Officer, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment. “Today represents another successful milestone in the distinguished service to the citizens of this country, the Illinois Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army.” 

Auer said the purpose of the ceremony was to acknowledge ILARNG Soldiers who deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Spartan Shield, and Operation New Normal, and most importantly, to recognize the families, friends, and all who supported the unit throughout the deployment. 

“It does my heart well to see all of you Soldiers back home safe, and spending time with your families,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, The Adjutant General of Illinois, and Commander of the Illinois National Guard. “It was a year ago back in February last year when we were in Peoria, sending you off. I know each one of you at that time were asking, as we all do when we are preparing for deployment, what’s this? What’s ahead of you? What’s the next step in this mission? What will I be doing next? How will I perform?” 

“Let me tell you, I could not be prouder of how well all of you performed,” he said. “This unit took the Black Hawk Victor model and were the first in the entire Army to get it through training, prepare it for deployment, and deploy it. You really set the record for the rest of the Army on how to use the Victor model.” 

Neely said the 106th Aviation Regiment set standards for developing Crisis Response Task Force Aviation tactics. 

“You worked with international partners, not just in Kuwait, but partners across the Central Command area of responsibility,” he said. “Lieutenant Colonel Celletti and I talked about some of the hardships this unit went through, especially the change in theater after Oct. 7. You answered the call with professionalism and expertise and brought that capability into theater, so the entire theater was able to have the needed aviation capability that was there.” 

Neely said it took each Soldier to accomplish the mission. 

“It took each of you to do that,” he said. “We have some amazing pilots, but we also have amazing maintainers, mission planners, and supply. It takes an entire team to get that helicopter off the pad to the next mission. It is a reminder today of the one percent that does this mission, the one percent of people in the United States that wear this uniform. We often forget how unique we are because we’re surrounded by other service members in our community.” 

Neely said since he has been The Adjutant General of Illinois, more than 4,800 Soldiers and Airmen have deployed around the world to 21 different countries. 

“We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the family who stands behind us,” he said. “The only reason we can serve is because of the families and employers who step up behind us.” 

Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Stickelmaier, senior enlisted leader for 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation, thanked the families for their support throughout the deployment. 

“Keeping the household wasn’t easy I’m sure,” he said. “Taking care of that allowed us to do what we needed to do to focus on our mission. And focus they did.” 

Stickelmaier said the Soldiers did a great job by taking a normal five-year training cycle and condensing it down to 18 months. 

“We fielded a brand-new helicopter and took it through its final paces of a combat deployment,” he said. “This mission was extremely successful because of the Soldiers here. It was a pleasure serving with all of you. As you go back to your unit, continue to build on the lessons learned and training received, share this knowledge with fellow Soldiers and continue the tradition of the Black Horse.” 

Lt. Col. Jason Celletti, commander, 1/106th, said he told the Soldiers at the mobilization ceremony in 2023 that teamwork is the key to successful organizations. 

“Professionalism, quality training and leadership from all levels will make the team successful,” he reminded the Soldiers and their families. “I said then I couldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t be challenges over the next few months but the only way to get through the deployment is to rely on the rest of the team and others for support and to offer support when needed.” 

“The team was successful,” he said. “We fought through challenges of the Victor model, the ‘who we work for mentalities’, and events in the Middle East after October 7. We came together whether we realized it or not.” 

Celletti said the Task Force was made up of about 300 Soldiers from across all three components. 

“Black Horse went out of the normal assault helicopter battalion doctrine to ensure we met the Central Command Commander’s intent for a Crisis Response Task Force Aviation,’ he said. “The Task Force was stood up a couple of times but fortunately it did not deploy to its full extent to any crisis.” 

Celletti said the Black Horse executed 5,000 hours of flight time with multiple aircraft frames, not just the battalion’s Black Hawk helicopters. 

“We flew AH-64 Apaches, H-47 Chinooks, three varieties of UH-60 Black Hawks, the C-12 fixed wing aircraft, and others in multiple countries, maintaining an 83 percent ready to launch rate for the brigade, Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve,” he said.  

Celletti said the Black Horse Soldiers, including teammates from units in Connecticut and Maine were awarded 13 Meritorious Service Medals, 96 Air Medals, 136 Army Commendation Medals, 29 Army Achievement Medals, 45 Combat Action Badges, and three Purple Hearts. In addition, 1/106th Assault Helicopter Battalion will receive the Meritorious Unit Commendation from Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. 

“That is a testament to a job well done across multiple operational commands,” Celletti said. “One of the greatest accomplishments of the team is growth. I witnessed Soldiers grow into great leaders. They will go a long way in the organization.” 

Celletti told the families they played a vital role in the Black Horse Team. 

“You held the households together. You were chauffeurs, ensuring the children were taken to school,” he said. “You made sure houses didn’t fall apart. You were dealing with air conditioners going out, storms destroying cars and sheds and other events no one wishes to deal with.” 

“Because of the solid support you provided the Soldiers, we were able to set their minds at ease enabling them to focus on the mission at hand,” he said. “The team we created together is what made this mission a success.” 

Celletti and Stickelmaier presented Neely and Command Sgt. Maj. Kehinde Salami, Senior Enlisted Leader for the Illinois National Guard, with the Illinois flag presented to the unit during the mobilization ceremony. 

The flag was flown during multiple operational missions in the CENTCOM AOR, including Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Lebanon. 

Neely told the returning Soldiers the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration programs are important. 

“These programs provide us with the resources to help with problems which may arise,” he said. “If you’re having problems, be humble enough to ask for help.” 

The unit has deployed multiple times, both domestically and overseas, including the 1993 Mississippi River flood operations, to Honduras in 1995 and 1996 in support of Joint Task Force Bravo, 1997 to Georgetown, Guyana in support of Task Force New Horizons 97, and to the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana in 1999 and 2000. The unit deployed to Iceland in 2001 in support of Icelandic Defense Forces and Northern Viking 01. 

“Black Horse again answered the call of our nation, supporting stability operations in Kosovo in 2008, Southwest Border operations in 2006, 2012, 2014 and 2021, and the Northern Command Joint Emergency Evacuation Plans in 2020,” Auer said. “In 2003, and continuing through the years, most notably in 2004, 2009, 2021, 2015, and 2017, the battalion has deployed in support of the Ground Force Commander under contingency operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom II, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Freedom Sentinel, and Operation Inherent Resolve.” 

“You continue to carry on with our battalion motto, commitment to excellence, in your actions,” Auer said. “Today, we dry the ink and close the newest chapter, adding to the Black Horse story, by completing the reintegration event for the 2023-2024 mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maintaining the CENTCOM Commander’s Crisis Response Aviation Task Force. Job well done.” 

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