Alaska aviators on the move in Iraq
October 13, 2011
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Oct. 13, 2011 -- Soldiers of the 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, an Attack-Reconnaissance Squadron consisting of OH-58 Kiowa Warriors, based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, took the lead Oct. 3 as the first aviation unit in Iraq to close a Forward Operating Base.
The 6-17 CAV, in conjunction with 4th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, closed Forward Operating Base, or FOB, Diamondback in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, in October as part of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade's reposturing of forces in preparation for the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq.
"The reposturing of forces in Iraq requires large formations and thousands of man hours for each battalion or squadron to move to a new location," said Col. Mitchell Medigovich, commander of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade , or CAB. The 6-17 CAV is one of five aviation battalions that fall under the 40th CAB's command.
"The 6-17th's ability to maintain a positive attitude, agile mindset and a commitment to mission success allowed them to move from Mosul to Camp Taji and Kirkuk," Medigovich said. "They did so in a manner that they were able to mitigate the risk and eliminate friction and still provide first class mission support to their customers."
The 6-17 CAV faced a momentous challenge when its Soldiers closed FOB Diamondback and moved out. The unit not only had to move its personnel, maintenance equipment, communication packages and aircraft; but also ensure there was no drop in aerial coverage to the ground force commanders and make sure everything was in order to hand off to the Iraqis.
The handover of Diamondback, known to the Iraqis as the Mosul International Airport, had special significance due to it being an international airport, said Lt. Col. Michael McCurry, commander of the 6-17. "We had to make sure it was secure and operational for civilian flights when we repostured the American presence and handed it over to the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation."
While the 6-17 was moving out of Mosul, it also closed a base at Tal Afar, constructed new landing pads on Camp Taji, made upgrades to its aircraft, all while maintaining and conducting missions throughout United States Division-Center and North. The unit operated, at one point, out of five locations.
"The whole move went very smoothly," said Capt. Peter Thomas, F Troop commander, 6-17. "The Soldiers worked very hard to get everything prepared for the move. Our Soldiers are extremely flexible. They've done a great job as we repostured south. These guys have been living out of their rucksacks for the majority of the deployment because of all the changes and movements they've had to endure."
One important aspect of the 6-17th's move was to make sure they had areas to park their aircraft before moving to a new location. The 6-17 had to create a whole new parking area on Camp Taji's airfield, and that doesn't go without its challenges.
"It was very dusty when we first started," said Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Paddock, squadron safety officer for the 6-17. Paddock said an OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter came in off a mission and caused a brown out where visibility fell to nearly zero due to dust. "Now we're leveling the ground and putting down a nice layer of gravel, two to four inches deep. Then we're going to flatten it out to cut down on the dust, making a better environment for landing."
As the U.S. prepares to draw down out of Iraq, maintaining mission capability is essential for all, whether it be air or ground units, Medigovich said.
"Consolidating forces allows us to generate more combat power. One and one equals three; that's the synergy that takes place when you combine and bring aviation forces together--the sum of those parts is greater than the whole," Medigovich said. "The 6-17 consolidation from five sites to two allows us to generate significantly more combat power, which in turn allows them to operate more safely and be in a position in which we can defeat the violent extremists that are operating in the area."
The 40th CAB, as a whole, has vacated several major posts, to include: Cobra, Sikes, Tal Afar and Mosul, has consolidated aircraft out of Joint Base Balad and Marez, and removed or handed over several Forward Arming and Refueling Points. But, missions in those areas have not ceased or decreased.
"Even though we are reposturing, our mission has not changed. We're still flying the same scout weapons team coverage as before. We're just flying out of different locations," said McCurry. "We still are able to provide aerial coverage to help maintain security for the people of Iraq."
The 40th CAB is still providing air support for Soldiers on the ground and providing security for the citizens of Iraq as the drawdown of U.S. progresses.
"We're getting ready to fully hand over security to the Iraqis and transition to them while we leave the country," said McCurry. "I think that's a really positive step and something that we need to make sure the world recognizes, because there are not too many forces around the world that do what we did and hand things back over to the parent nation with dignity and honor."