Kentucky Guard connects families, Soldiers for holidays

Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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A family member waves to Soldiers of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation during a video teleconference as part of a holiday luncheon in Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 6, 2014. Adjutant General Edward W. Tonini and Kentucky’s Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen attended the event with the families of the deployed unit. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

FRANKFORT,Ky. — Despite some technical difficulties, live video and sound finally came through the wire, and anxious family members saw loved ones on the large video screen. Several Kentucky families were joined via video teleconference with their deployed Soldiers at the Kentucky Guard’s annual holiday luncheon in Frankfort, Dec. 6. Kentucky newest lieutenant governor, Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen joined Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini in greeting the parents, wives and children of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation currently deployed to the Persian Gulf Region.

The tradition, started by Gov. Steve Beshear in 2009, gathered the family members of those deployed to honor them for their sacrifice, reminding them that the leadership of Kentucky is there for them.

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Kentucky Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen speaks to family members of deployed Soldiers during a holiday luncheon in Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 6, 2014. The event included a video teleconference with Soldiers of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation deployed to the Middle East. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“It’s really wonderful to have the adjutant general and the Kentucky Guard to be as supportive as they have been,” said Ashley Flanagan, Bravo Co.’s Family Readiness Group leader. “This is just like bringing a little bit of the holidays home.”

Dressed in holiday outfits, children ran back and forth in front of the video camera, stopping occaisionally to point at a familiar face on the screen. Toys were distributed, crafts were made and smiles filled the room. Families discussed recent happenings, University of Kentucky basketball games and the rainy Central Kentucky weather.  A holiday atmosphere exactly as planned said Lt. Col. Michael Stephens, commander of the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade.

“That’s what this event is about and is always about,” he said. “We invite families together to show them that we care. As a brigade commander those Soldiers are my children too, therefore their family members are my family, and we are here to support one another.”

Gov. Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear were unable to attend this year’s event, a first for the couple, but Lt. Gov. Luallen was more than happy to fill the role of host. Luallen said it was an honor for her to be there and that her own personal experiences have proved to her how difficult deployments can be.

“I know what a sacrifice it is for everyone of you to be without them during the holidays. It is so important to the security of the state and to the security of the nation that we have a strong Guard, like we do here in Kentucky.”

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Family members of deployed Soldiers applaud the Soldiers of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation during a holiday luncheon in Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 6, 2014. The unit deployed to the Middle East in June and is expected to return in the spring of 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

Bravo Co. deployed to the Middle East in June of 2014, flying UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in airlift support missions for U.S. military operations throughout the region. They are expected to return in the Spring of 2015.

Flanagan is also the wife of Bravo Co.’s commander, Capt. Cliff Flanagan. This is her first deployment away from her husband. She said she wasn’t sure what she was getting into, becoming the commander’s wife and FRG leader, but thanks to the support of the brigade and the Kentucky Guard, she called it an easy ride.

“Being able to see the families interact with each other, you never know who’s able to speak with their loved ones or not, so for the Kentucky Guard to set that up and see it was amazing.”

The unit has deployed several times over the past decade, but the most recent is the first for many of it’s members, including Sgt. Ethan Skaggs who serves as a crew chief. Skaggs family turned out in a large number to enjoy what they called a great support network.

“It was great to come here and see our loved one on the video,” said Ethan’s mother, Donna Skaggs. “I even got to see him put up a ‘Hi Mom’ sign. So that’s our Ethan.”

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