By Spc. Roland HaleFebruary 17, 2011
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Feb. 17, 2011 -- The Army's last active-duty aviation brigade in Iraq is heading home after a year-long deployment in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
The Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, deployed from Fort Riley, Kan., in March, and quickly became an integral player in U.S. Forces - Iraq's mission here.
When it first arrived, the unit was one of four aviation brigades in Iraq. Over the course of the deployment, however, it rapidly assumed responsibility for all Army aviation operations in the country. It is now the Army's only aviation brigade here, bolstered to meet that charge with increased numbers of troops and aircraft.
With nearly 4,000 troops and more than 200 helicopters, the brigade is double the size of a normal aviation brigade. The increased numbers make it the Army's first and only enhanced aviation brigade.
The brigade has made good use of every aircraft. It leaves Iraq having flown nearly 125,000 hours in support of USF-I's mission here.
"The statistics are an indication of what we've done to support the mission," said Col. Frank Muth, brigade commander. "What's behind the numbers are the hundreds more hours that Soldiers are turning wrenches to make the aircraft fly, supporting the mission."
The brigade's primary mission is the support of U.S. ground forces, which involves freedom of maneuver, counter indirect fire, route clearance, and convoy security. It leaves with that mission accomplished, said Muth.
"We're ensuring we leave behind a safe and secure environment that allows the Iraqi government to flourish," said Muth.
The brigade's Apache aircraft provided security above Iraqi cities while the country held its second set of parliamentary elections last March. After nine months of political deadlock following those inconclusive elections, the brigade watched the Iraqi parliament approve a new government.
Also, the brigade played its part in providing troops with air transportation between bases as much as possible. With improvised explosive devices as one of the leading killers of servicemembers here, keeping U.S. forces off of the roads was one of the brigade's top missions.
The brigade has transported nearly 300,000 personnel and 10 million pounds of cargo this deployment.
In addition to fulfilling the unit's mission, the brigade has seen drastic improvements in Iraq overall, said Muth.
"The Iraqi nation has turned a corner," said Muth. "What I see is more lights on, more commerce taking place, more traffic on the road, people moving around to do business." he said.
The brigade has also invested its time in training with their Iraqi aviation counterparts.
On Camp Taji, one of the brigade's battalions has flown several partnership missions with an Iraqi squadron, as well as helped train Iraqi air traffic controllers. The brigade has also assisted ground forces in training Iraqis in air to ground integration operations.
The brigade is scheduled to end its mission here next month, when it will pass its mission to the California National Guard's 40th Combat Aviation Brigade.
The unit's overall impact here will depend on how well it prepares the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade to continue that mission, said Muth.
"The mark of a good unit leaving is when you hand off that mission to the new unit, the unit doesn't skip a beat, the mission isn't affected, and it's a smooth transition," said Muth.