FORT GILLEM, Ga. (Dec. 21, 2009) -- Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, also known as Task Force Keystone, are beginning to return home following their successful deployment to Iraq.

The Soldiers were in Iraq for about eight months.

The first group arrived back at Fort Dix, N.J., in mid-December, and will head to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., for out-processing and demobilization just in time for the holidays. The remaining elements of the CAB will redeploy in late December and mid-January.

This deployment of the 28th CAB was the largest aviation deployment in Pennsylvania Army National Guard history. While in Iraq, the pilots, mechanics and support personnel provided helicopter air support and transportation needed to aid Iraq's transition to local security-force control.

This was the first time a combat aviation brigade had been commanded by a woman in combat, according to First Army officials. Col. Teresa A. Gallagher commanded the 28th CAB.

First Army Soldiers served as the primary trainers for the 28th CAB prior to deployment. They said this brigade is a good example of citizen-Soldiers answering the call to duty and performing in combat in an honorable manner. First Army officials said from their perspective, this was a highly successful mobilization by an organization that was well led and motivated.

From January through April 2009, nearly 2,500 Soldiers from nine states were mobilized, trained, and later deployed from Fort Sill, Okla., to Camp Adder, Iraq. While at Fort Sill, members of the 28th CAB inventoried their equipment, conducted company and battalion-level collective training, door and aircrew gunnery training, and an eight-day mission rehearsal exercise before loading their equipment for Iraq.

IGallagher's initial challenge was to bring together all the elements of the brigade from those nine states. Facing daunting personnel challenges and the inherent problems with combining an organization from different states, she provided the leadership and direction for a remarkably complex yet highly successful deployment, First Army officials said.

Once the brigade staged in Kuwait, Gallagher again was challenged by a last-minute mission change and diverted to a completely new location. Without missing a beat she led the brigade into its new zone, and First Army officials said this was testament to the unit's agility and the quality of its leadership and its Soldiers of all ranks.

Once fully deployed, the 28th CAB took control of aviation operations in southern Iraq and performed the full spectrum of aviation operation tasks, including troop and equipment transport, combat operations, air-assault training for Iraqi and U.S. special-operations forces, and airlifting non-operational vehicles from the battlefield.

Under Gallagher's leadership, the 28th CAB Soldiers flew in excess of 25,000 flight hours, moved almost 60,000 passengers and 2.5 billion pounds of cargo, and participated in multiple combat missions, all with the use of CH-47 Chinook, AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The brigade also marked the milestone of seeing the unit's first all-female Medical Evacuation team make history during the deployment.

"There must have been another all-female MEDEVAC crew somewhere, but I haven't seen one," said Chief Warrant Officer Andrea Galatian, the pilot.

"The odds are slim for such a crew to come up on rotation," said Maj. David Mattimore, commander, C Company, 3-238th MEDEVAC, from Hampton, N.H.

During its deployment, the 28th CAB also celebrated its 50th birthday, which it marked by receiving a combat patch, for its service in Iraq.

"As the leader of this tremendous group of Soldiers, I must say that I couldn't be more proud," said Gallagher.

Lt. Gen. Thomas G. Miller, commanding general of First Army, visited the 28th CAB in Iraq.

"The entire First Army Team is as proud of Col. Gallagher and all the Soldiers and officers of the 28th CAB as if they were our own", said Miller upon conclusion of the visit. "We know Pennsylvania must be equally proud and look forward to welcoming home these combat veterans."

(2nd Lt. Eric Connor serves with First Army Public Affairs.)

Page last updated Wed December 23rd, 2009 at 16:21