By Anna StaatzJanuary 23, 2009
FORT RILEY, Kan. - For Soldiers in the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, the low rumble of six Apache helicopters approaching Marshall Army Airfield Jan. 17 wasn't just about welcoming aircraft back to Fort Riley. The Apaches landing signified the safe completion of a combat deployment.
"This is a big step," said Staff Sgt. Roland Irizarry, a maintenance supervisor in the brigade. "We were one of the last brigades to do a 15-month tour ensuring freedom for the Iraqi people, and this means we've done it and completed it (our mission) safely."
The CAB deployed from Fort Riley in September 2007 and began returning to the post in November 2008 without a single combat death, something the brigade's commander, Col. Jess Farrington, said was a "major accomplishment." He also lauded the brigade's role in reducing enemy activity in its area of operations while deployed.
"There was almost a 70 percent reduction in enemy activity during our tour," Farrington said. "That frames where we have just come from."
Bringing the aircraft back to Fort Riley signified not only the completion of one mission, but also the beginning of another for the Demon Brigade.
"Bringing them (the helicopters) back to Fort Riley is great," Farrington said. "It's good to be back in the Kansas area, and the Fort Riley area ... It also means getting back into the training mode, which is the next phase for us, to train this brigade again for whatever our nation calls upon us to do."
During its deployment, the brigade oversaw the operation and maintenance of 200 manned and unmanned aircraft. The unit's helicopters logged more than 170,000 hours in flight time.
While in Iraq, the brigade's Soldiers conducted nearly 18,000 missions, identifying and engaging enemy targets 300 times. CAB Soldiers also were responsible for the discovery or defeat of 56 improvised explosive devices and the destruction of more than 125 insurgent vehicles and structures.
In addition, the brigade was responsible for transporting more than 91,000 personnel and about 4,000 tons of cargo around Multi-National Division - North.
A second flight of Apaches and a single Black Hawk helicopter arrived later Jan. 17. It is anticipated that all of the unit's aircraft will be back at Fort Riley mid-summer.