JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - Lt. Col. Michael Bentley no longer cringes flying over Baghdad. In the "old days," the city was dangerous. But now the Army pilot looks down from his Black Hawk helicopter to see the lights of amusement parks and kids at swimming pools. After seven years of war in Iraq, Bentley sees success.

Bentley's unit, the 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, held a ceremony on Joint Base Balad, Nov. 3, marking the end of their year-long tour in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. Before leaving Iraq , the battalion's aviators shared encouraging words for the future of the country, referencing several indications of success they have seen from their bird's eye view.

The battalion deployed to Iraq last November from Katterbach, Germany. While the nature of Army aviation's mission has not changed since then (aviation units support ground forces, regardless of the nature of their mission), the Iraq they have been flying above has.

"What I've seen flying above Iraq shows me that the war hasn't been a waste of time," said Bentley. "Looking down at kids in paddle boats, families going around a Ferris wheel in Baghdad, that shows there's some normalcy starting to go back into the country.

"It makes me proud, that what we did here over these past years has meant something; that all the casualties that have occurred in Iraq have not been in vain."

Spc. Ryan Hadfield, a Black Hawk crew chief, started to see a change first hand this September with the start of Operation New Dawn.

"There's been a huge improvement over the last year," said Hadfield. "We started off our deployment doing air assaults, and then transitioned to a more peaceful role of moving people around the battlefield."

"It was go, go, go, picking up troops and taking them to the fight, and now it's a more routine state of support operations," said Hadfield.

Hadfield and many of the battalion's helicopter crews, worked up to the last minute of their unit's deployment, totaling over 16,000 hours of flight time. Replacing the battalion is the 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, a similar aviation battalion from California. The new battalion took the 3-158's place as part of the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div., the last aviation brigade to deploy to as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the only aviation brigade supporting Operation New Dawn.