By Staff Sgt. Joe ArmasMay 4, 2012
CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan -- A little less than a year ago, Soldiers from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division touched down in Afghanistan to commence what would be the brigade's first deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As the brigade's tour is winding down and the end is now in sight, relief has arrived in the form of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, based out of Germany.
Before the 1st ACB fully hands the reigns over to the 12th CAB, the two units are conducting what is commonly referred to as a relief in place.
"It's our job to set them (12th CAB) up for success. We're building up their aircraft and helping them get established here in theater," said Sgt. Casey Henson, from Dallas, a crew chief assigned to Company A "Werewolves", Task Force Lobos, 1st ACB.
"At the same time, we're withdrawing ourselves out of the footprint so that they can step in and fully take over the mission," added Henson.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin Wikstrom, from Rockwall, Texas, a pilot assigned to Task Force Ready, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, is on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He said a good transition is important, especially from an aviator's perspective.
"The nuances that come with operating in an extreme environment like this are plenty," said Wikstrom.
Power management with the aircraft, for example, is adversely affected by the high elevations that are flown here in Afghanistan, he added.
During the relief in place process, the incoming unit goes through academics as well as local area orientations that give the incoming unit's Soldiers a good idea of what to expect.
With varied missions that involve everything from air assaults to basic passenger movement
around the battlefield, knowing what to expect is key, added Henson.
"Weather plays a big factor out here, so it's important that their crews know the best routes to take when bad weather hampers their ability to fly through certain valleys," he added.
Wikstrom said the complexity of the battlefield in Afghanistan also requires that a strong transition process be in place. "We need to understand how the enemy operates, so we're not stepping in blind when we start conducting missions on our own," said Wikstrom.
Soon, the 1st ACB will depart theater and the 12th CAB will be at the helm of aviation operations in RC North. Wikstrom feels the relief in place process has been a successful one to this point.
"There are some great aviators in the 1st ACB," said Wikstrom. "It's been a pleasure flying with them and feeding off of the experiences they had this past year."
"They're eager to go home, and at the same time they're eager to help to ensure our transition is smooth as well," Wikstrom continued.
Henson said he wishes the incoming unit well and he also has some final advice for them as they embark on their new mission.
"Hopefully they can help bring this conflict to an end," added Henson. "My advice to them: Be flexible and be prepared to work long days. The mission changes every day here."