FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- During a ceremony marking the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade's changing of command, Col. Pedro G. Almeida passed the brigade's colors on to Col. David J. Francis on Tuesday at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.

Almeida took command of the brigade in November 2009, a few months after it returned from a 12-month deployment to Iraq. In the following 12 months, the unit reset; fielded a new model of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter; added an attack helicopter battalion from Savannah, Ga.; trained gunnery; trained in high altitude in Colorado; conducted exercises in Alabama and Lou-isiana, and deployed to Afghanistan.

"During the deployment, the 10th CAB provided reliable, responsive aviation support to an unprecedented seven ground maneuver brigades, U.S. Special Forces, NATO Special Forces and their Afghan partners throughout the inhospitable expanse of (Regional Command) -- East, the size of the state of Ohio," said Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander.

"The region is home to the sheer cliffs and unforgiving valleys of the Hindu Kush that tower (up to) 14,000 feet in altitude, where frequent weather storms roll in mercilessly," he continued. "Our pilots and crews flew day and night through these mountains, through the weather, to support the ground troops. And they never once failed -- not once."

Almeida reminded those in attendance that it was the aviators and Soldiers before them and their many accomplishments that were truly being recognized during the ceremony.

"In 12 months in Afghanistan, you flew between two and eight assaults every single night for a year -- assaults for as few as 60 to as many as 900 Soldiers -- to take infantry units to seek out and destroy our enemies on incredibly dark nights in the most untenable locations possible," Almeida said. "You flew hundreds and hundreds of medical evacuations, often under heavy fire and direct personal threat to you, our air crews, in order to pick up and move our coalition wounded to medical care.

"You flew food, mail, ammo, water and our most precious cargo, U.S. Soldiers, to get where they needed to be, when they needed to be there -- even when it meant landing on a completely dark night with the rotors of your aircraft just a few feet from sheer valley walls -- because those Soldiers on that outpost in the middle of nowhere needed that supply of ammo and water right then and there.

"You flew armed reconnaissance and attack aircraft into the face of direct threats, to repeatedly destroy an enemy that was threatening our coalition forces," Almeida continued. "You did it when an Afghan convoy carrying a local government official came under ambush in a narrow valley, and the aeroscouts that were there broke the attack by getting up close and personal to the insurgents with rockets and .50 cal despite coming under heavy fire themselves. You did it when special operations forces came under heavy attack during a raid, and the fires delivered by AH-64s were exactly what made the difference in success or failure."

In the last eight months, the brigade has fielded a new model of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, executed reset and conducted aerial gunnery.

Almeida, who has been selected to be the chief of staff for Africa Command in Vicenza, Italy, said he is confident in handing off command to his successor.

"You are now postured to ramp up training significantly for the next challenge," Almeida said. "And you will be ready for the next challenge. Nothing feels better than to know you're passing the colors to a strong, capable, gifted and caring leader.

"I could not be more proud to have stood in your ranks for nearly three years," he said. "Our job is to enable the success of our supported ground units. You did that, in spades, while deployed."
Almeida added that he believed that the measure of the success of an aviation unit can be found in the words of their supported units.

"When a French commander informed me that he was submitting our Kiowa crews for the prestigious Croix de Valeur Militaire for the relentless support the team delivered his French soldiers while under constant fire -- an award that we just received word was approved -- that is a measure of our success.

"When our ground commanders refuse to initiate an operation until they have the attack and scout aircraft in a position to support the fight, that is a measure of our success.

"When we air assault over 600 Soldiers into multiple tough landing zones in one night and the BCT commander tells me that he has never seen such massive assaults executed so flawlessly with so few aircraft in such tough terrain and make it look easy, that is a measure of our success."

Francis, who arrives here after attending the U.S. Army War College, said he feels great honor to be selected to lead the 10th CAB.

"We truly feel like we have come home since our arrival in the North Country, to the best division in the Army and to a brigade with a stunning legacy on the battlefield," Francis said.

"From the tremendous support that the agencies on this installation provide to Soldiers and Families, to the overwhelming support of the local community here in the North Country, we are honored to join the ranks of the 10th Mountain Division and serve alongside the outstanding Soldiers of the 10th CAB.

"The valor and professionalism you displayed in combat and the selfless service of your Families make you a national treasure," he added.