By Heather Graham-Ashley, III Corps and Fort Hood Public AffairsOctober 14, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas - A Maryland-based reserve-component aviation brigade is completing its mobilization training at Fort Hood in preparation of assuming the air mission in Iraq next month.
Soldiers and air crews assigned to the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade, Maryland Army National Guard, Task Force Normandy have been completing their post-mobilization training at North Fort Hood since last month. They are scheduled to deploy to Iraq in the next month.
Although the mission in Iraq is drawing down, the brigade has trained for all possible scenarios.
"We will provide full-spectrum aviation operations in support of Iraqi Security Forces," Deputy Brigade Commander Lt. Col. Steve Fritz, 29th CAB, said. "We have to plan for all contingencies. Even though the current situation has stabilized greatly, there's still that unknown."
Pre-mobilization training in Maryland focused on individual skills such as small arms range qualifications, the military decision making process and command and control skills, Fritz said. Additional unit training at locations such as Fort Rucker, Ala., for the pilots and Fort Stewart, Ga., for the command staff also was conducted before the brigade arrived at Fort Hood.
Upon their deployment, the 29th CAB will be comprised of the brigade's headquarters element from Maryland; the 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment, Kansas Army National Guard; 1st Battalion, 111th General Services Aviation Regiment, Florida Army National Guard and the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion, Kentucky Army National Guard. In Iraq, they will meet up with their assigned attack asset, 1st Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment, South Carolina National Guard, which recently completed its mobilization training at Fort Hood as well.
Coming to Fort Hood allowed the Soldiers to focus not only on training for the deployment, but also on building camaraderie.
"Being able to focus completely on tasks at Fort Hood helped because there were no outside distractions," Fritz said.
The approximately 2,500 Soldiers in the brigade represent more than 20 states and U.S. territories, and they represent all walks of life. Fritz noted that two of the Soldiers in the brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Company are brothers who were firefighters and responded to the attack and ensuing fire at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The Soldiers reflect America," he said.
While many of the Soldiers have previous deployments and those experiences from which to draw for the training, others are facing their first trip downrange.
First Lt. Ken Lee, a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot from Honolulu, Hawaii, said he is ready for his first deployment, thanks to the experienced crews and the unit training.
"I learned a lot, especially from the guys who have already deployed," Lee said. "A lot of the things we trained on you cannot learn on your own, you have to practice as a unit."
As a platoon leader and line pilot, Lee said he expects to get a lot of flying time in Iraq and he is anxious to use the skills he practiced here.
"You can only get so much before you actually get there," Lee said.
During the training, all of the Soldiers and air crews focused on working as a team. Combining the different regiments and Soldiers under the command and control of the 29th CAB for this deployment was not a hindrance because aviation stresses standardization, Fritz said.
"It's absolutely critical we come together with a base of standards," he said.
Through the unit training, the brigade came together as a cohesive unit and completed their culminating exercise last week, validating the unit for deployment. The air assault exercise combined CH-47F Chinook helicopters, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters from 21st Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat) and an infantry unit from the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
"We are ready. The brigade is ready," Fritz said. "We're ready to go into theater and accomplish our missions."