Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait - Soldiers assigned to the Spanish army aviation unit, Task Force Toro, fly into Camp Buehring, Kuwait, May 24 after twenty-four days at sea on the Spanish naval ship LHD Juan Carlos I (L-61), the biggest warship ever built for Spain.
TF Toro is tactically controlled by the U.S. Army 449th Combat Aviation Brigade, and will provide inter-theater aviation support via the Cougar and Chinook helicopters for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve with a final destination of Camp Taji, Iraq.
The Task Force Commander Maj. Gala Gallego Soro, Spain's first female commander for deployment operations, lead the exhibition, flying the newly assembled Cougars off of the Spanish ship with an escort from the U.S. Army 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment (AHB), 449th CAB.
"Having the escort by U.S. forces makes me feel relaxed," said Gallego. "When you enter a country, you don't know if there are problems or how to react. Having someone escort you that is familiar and knows what he or she is doing is a good thing. Task Force Hurricanes [449th CAB] knows the way and is able to support and give us the info we need to make it easier."
Transporting aircraft between countries is a lengthy task, and TF Toro ensured they reduced as many problems as possible. Their helicopters were transported by vessel in order to reduce logistical issues. In doing so, TF Toro completed limited dismantling of their aircraft.
With the help of the Spanish navy Commander Carlos Carrasco in charge of airport operations on the LHD Juan Carlos I, the Cougars and Chinooks underwent maintenance and engine testing before the pilots flew off the ship. After almost a month without flight, there were many mechanical and engine issues they wanted to avoid.
"Our mission was to bring the [Spanish] army helicopters to the naval base," said Carrasco. "After sailing for twenty-four days, the pilots were ready to fly."
TF Toro is comprised of five units based out of Sevilla and Madrid, Spain. Their helicopters are similar to the U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook. Although they are able to conduct casualty and medical evacuations, their mission will only be to transport troops and cargo in Iraq.
TF Toro will declare full operational mobility on June 15 and with the first female commander in charge of deployment operations, there will be high visibility.
"I know I'm the first, but it feels normal," said Gallego. "I never knew I was the first until someone told me. "We've had women in the Armed Forces for about 30 years; it makes sense to be promoted to other ranks, and it's time for more women to command units. What's really important is us successfully completing our mission in Iraq."
This is not the first deployment for Gallego. After three tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Bosnia, Gallego is confident in TF Toro's ability to successfully support Coalition forces.
"This is going to be a challenge because language is a concern, but we will find a way to work and fly together," said Gallego. We don't have full access to TF Hurricanes' information because it's secret, but we have all the information we need to fly safe."