Soldiers prepare helicopters for return to US
February 4, 2011
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - An Army aviation brigade out of Fort Riley, Kan., is preparing its aircraft to return from Iraq this spring.
The Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division is scheduled to be replaced by another unit in the coming months, and its redeployment preparations are in full-swing.
Some of the brigade's helicopters will fly to ports in Kuwait to be shipped by sea, while others will be loaded on to large Air Force aircraft for what is called "strategic air movements" to the U.S.
Warrant Officer 1 Jahmal Anderson is in charge of overseeing the brigade commander's redeployment plan. With aircraft operating out of about a dozen locations across Iraq, he is faced with a daunting task.
"It's not just the aircraft, but the equipment that goes with them," said Anderson. "We're making sure everything gets in and gets out."
In total, the brigade's redeployment process will span about nine months, he said. The preparations began last September, half-way into the unit's deployment, and will not end until around June. The unit's personnel will return sooner, but several dozen of its aircraft will enter reset, a process by which they are completely broken down for extensive maintenance.
Spc. Dante Soto is one of the brigade's helicopter repairers responsible for preparing the aircraft to be shipped to the reset facility.
"We've got two crews running on 24-hour operations to get the birds broken down and ready to go," said Soto.
Assigned to the brigade's D Company, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Soto and other repairers have already prepared several Chinook helicopters for redeployment. While tearing down and preparing the 10-ton, 98-foot Chinooks is no small task, the battalion's crews can prepare an aircraft in about a day, said Soto.
The atmosphere is energetic for the crews working on the aircraft, said Soto. For them, it is one less aircraft to maintain and another day closer to home.
"I've done probably over a hundred washes out here," said Soto, taking a break while his crew finished washing a Chinook. "It can get redundant doing it day in, day out, but these are our last washes so everyone's pretty stoked to be getting them done."
Spc. Matthew Gregory, assigned to the same company as Soto, also looks forward to getting home. In addition to the aircraft, the battalion is packing the tools and equipment they use to repair the aircraft, he said.
"We're packing up containers full of our equipment, doing the paperwork needed to ship it back," said Gregory.
"It feels good," he said. "Good to go home."
But the brigade's Soldiers will not be going home quite yet. While the redeployment process is under way and many of these troops have already started their countdowns, the brigade still has a mission here. It is currently the Army's only aviation brigade in Iraq, and with a new aviation brigade on its way to replace them, the unit will now have the additional responsibility of training their replacements.
It is a load they can carry in stride, though, said Gregory.
"We've got the personnel, so whatever it takes to get it all done and us out of here," he said.