By Spc. Roland HaleOctober 11, 2010
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - U.S. Army aviators serving in Iraq held a conference on Camp Taji, Oct. 7, to address several topics concerning Army aviation's current and future operations in Iraq.
The conference was hosted by the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, the Army's only aviation brigade deployed to Iraq. The unit began absorbing additional aviation assets this June, becoming the Army's first enhanced aviation brigade.
Every Army helicopter flying in Iraq either wears the brigade's famed insignia, the "Big Red One", or somehow falls under their control.
Senior aviators from across Iraq met on Camp Taji to discuss several logistical, tactical and strategic considerations in operating the brigade's assets across the country.
Attendees not only included senior leaders from all of the brigade's subordinate units, but senior aviators from U.S. Forces-Iraq, all three U.S. division headquarters, and brigade aviation officers assigned to ground units.
"We need to walk away from this conference together," said Col. Frank Muth, the brigade's commander, in his opening comments to the attendees. "We are a learning organization. Use this conference as an opportunity to learn."
Army aviation played a key-role this summer in the responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq. Now operating under the heading of Operation New Dawn, units are conducting what commanders call stability operations.
In accordance with carrying out stability operations, the enhanced aviation brigade is providing security and mobility to U.S. forces throughout Iraq.
"We are maximizing every blade, every seat, every man-hour we have," said Muth. "Last month we flew 14,193 hours. I don't know of a brigade out there that has flown that many hours."
Aviators at the conference discussed methods to improve the systems by which they carry out stability operations.
In addition to operating in a first-of-its-kind unit, the aviators are also adapting their support to encompass an Iraq that is quickly changing. With base closures and logistical shifts, aviation assets around the country are constantly kept on their toes to provide the best support possible throughout their areas of responsibility.
The aviators discussed possible re-assignment and distribution of aircraft, and other strategic changes to effectively provide support to stability operations across the country.
"We don't have to agree, but we have to speak with one voice," said Muth. "Together we've got to find solutions, fix any deficiencies we have."
Also addressed was the mission of partnering with the Iraqi army's aviation branch.
While training of the Iraqi pilots is officially a duty of U.S. Air Force training teams, many of the enhanced brigade's units are currently advising and assisting Iraqi units across the country.
Partnerships between U.S. and Iraqi army aviation units typically only exist at a division or higher level; there are no existing policies requiring smaller units to partner with the Iraqis, but many of the brigade's units have taken some of this responsibility on themselves.
"We offer something that the Air Force can't," said Lt. Col. Christopher Prather, whose battalion regularly partners with an Iraqi UH-1 Huey squadron on Camp Taji.
"As folks they respect, looking across the airfield, we can give them a lot of expertise and knowledge."
Prather added that the partnerships are not only important aviation-wise, but that "when the Iraqi army troops on the ground see that two-ship formation, with one of our helicopters flying beside one of theirs, they'll see that we trust them."
The Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade is scheduled to redeploy to Fort Riley, Kan., this spring, and is set to be replaced by another enhanced aviation brigade.