FORT RILEY, Kan. - The 1st Infantry Division's continuing transformation into the most modern formation in the United States Army marked an important milestone April 17 as Soldiers from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade made room for five Apache Block III helicopters in their hangars at Marshall Army Airfield on Fort Riley.

The Block III is the Army's newest, most advanced attack helicopter and the 1st CAB is the only aviation brigade to possess it.

"The addition of the Apache Block III extends the reach and speed of the Big Red One by being able to rapidly deliver lethal precision fires faster and more accurately than any other asset in the United States Army," Lt. Col. Ed Vedder, commander of 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment said. "The unit is ecstatic about being the first in the Army to fly, test and field this aircraft."

At a price tag $36 million, the Apache Block III has been hailed by Army Aviation leaders as the aircraft that gun pilots have needed for years to increase their ability to support the ground force. CW4 Ron Porter, 1-1 ARB, said the new helicopter is able to get to the fight quicker, carry more weight and provide Soldiers both in the cockpit and on the ground with better situational awareness.

"With this aircraft we can fly at higher altitudes, at faster speeds and, when (the Soldiers) need us, we can get to them carrying more fuel and more ammunition to help them out of trouble or take care of the bad guys as the case may be," Vedder said.

Although users have already identified a long list of increased aircraft capabilities, Vedder is quick to caution that the full potential of the helicopter still remains to be seen.

"The warriors in (the Gunfighter) formation will be the ones who discover the best way to employ the new systems that the Block III offers in support of our Soldiers and allies on the ground," he said.

Capt. Adam Marr, commander of C Company, 1-1 ARB, and the CAB's first Apache Block III pilot-in-command, said he and his team are honored to be a part of this monumental time in the history of the 1st Inf. Div. and Army Aviation.

"What Charlie Company is part of, what the Gunfighters are part of, is validating this awesome new aircraft to not only fight the current war but to ensure that we are prepared to meet all future battlefield challenges," he said.

Now that the new aircraft have begun to arrive in Kansas, CAB Soldiers are continuing to train the nearly 300 Soldiers who will fly or maintain the Block IIIs. In the coming months, more than 200 enlisted Soldiers will go through three to five weeks of training at Fort Riley while more than 60 pilots will head out to Mesa, Ariz., for Block III-specific training.

"There is a lot of honor and pride in being the first," Vedder said. "The Soldiers will carry this experience with them for the rest of their lives."

Additional Block IIIs will continue to arrive at Fort Riley throughout the coming months. By the end of the year, Fort Riley will be home to two dozen of the Army's premiere attack helicopters.