CAMP ROBERTS, Calif. – The California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade showed up in force at Camp Roberts for pre-deployment training over three weeks in November.It’s been a challenging and busy year for the 40th CAB due to COVID-19 support operations and an extremely active wildfire season. The 40th CAB’s helicopters are an integral part of California’s wildland firefighting response each summer, and 2020 proved to be one of the biggest fire seasons in the state’s history.In 2021, the brigade will be mobilized for its third deployment to the Middle East since 2011.At Camp Roberts in November, brigade Soldiers prepared for the deployment by completing numerous training events and requirements, including individual weapons qualifications, improvised explosive device avoidance and detection training, tactical combat casualty care, land navigation, Humvee and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle rollover training and convoy operations, among others. In addition, brigade and battalion staffs conducted a five-day Command Post Exercise (CPX) that simulated an air assault mission.COVID-19 was an additional element that brigade leadership had to factor into the training. “We’re taking COVID very seriously obviously,” 40th CAB commander Col. Alan Gronewold said. “It’s the simple things like wearing masks, social distancing and good personal hygiene with handwashing, etc. Those simple things are what we needed to do to prevent the spread, and I think we’ve done that here.”Gronewold flew UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for 10 years in the active-duty Army before joining the Oregon Army National Guard in 2006 and switching over to the CH-47 Chinook helicopter. He’s commanded at the company and battalion level and deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. On Oct. 8, he took command of the 40th CAB from Col. Dave Hall.“California and Oregon have always had a good reciprocal relationship,” Gronewold said. “I think there’s always been kind of a tight bond between the two. California has a huge National Guard, which has been the biggest change for me. It’s just like the Oregon Guard except there’s a lot more of it.”Gronewold said Hall did a great job preparing the brigade for the deployment, which has made the transition to command smooth as the core staff is experienced and has worked together for a long time.He said the intent for the training period at Camp Roberts was to bring his team together and conduct collective training at the brigade level. “This is our crawl phase. Next, we go to Fort Hood and we’ll start out at a walk phase, and then by the time we leave Fort Hood we’ll be at a run so when we get into theater we’ll transition with the outgoing unit, the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, and we should be at a run right away.”This will be the fifth deployment to the Middle East for Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rich Huber, the brigade’s Command Chief Warrant Officer. “I was there for the liberation of Kuwait,” Huber said. “I was there for the 13th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait, the 20th anniversary, the 25th anniversary and I’ll be there for the year of the 30th anniversary.”He said the brigade is well-prepared for this deployment. “I think primarily the goal is that we get everybody over there safely, complete whatever mission that we’re tasked with and return everybody safely.”Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas said morale has been high over the three weeks of training at Camp Roberts. “The purpose of what we’re doing here is to better ourselves as Soldiers, to be professional, and prepare ourselves,” Rosas said. “The Soldiers are doing great. They’re enjoying what they’re doing. They’re preparing themselves mentally and physically. We’re going to go out there and do great things for the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard.”