By Cpt. Xeriqua Garfinkel, Sgt. Shanika L. Futrell, and Spc. Jennifer AnderssonDecember 28, 2012
As 2012 comes to an end, the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade adds numerous events to its history.
The Thunder Brigade began this year by bringing the first of its Soldiers home from a 12-month deployment in January.
The 159th CAB served as mentors to the Afghan National Security Forces, further improving security in the region and increasing the capability of the ANSF and the government of Afghanistan. During these partnerships, Soldiers of the 159th also honed tactical skills and learned the delicacy of diplomacy.
The brigade continued redeployment and reintegration throughout February. Family members -- the strength of our Soldiers -- gathered to welcome their Soldiers back.
In March, Col. Todd Royar and Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Thom uncased the brigade colors at Fort Campbell. The ceremony marked the official end of the unit's deployment supporting Operation Enduring Freedom 11-12.
April's highlight was the Army Aviation Association of America's Annual Professional Forum and Exposition. Spc. Jason P. Gustine, a UH-60 Blackhawk crew chief for Company D, 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, won the Aviation Soldier of the Year award at the national convention held in Nashville, Tenn., for excelling in his duty position.
In May 2012, the Department of the Army announced the brigade as the recipient of the Deployment Excellence Award for the large active unit category. The brigade earned the award for exceeding the deployment standard by efficiently deploying and redeploying, while sharing those ideas Army-wide. Task Force Thunder focused on how to do things smarter, better and cost-effectively, saving the Army $63 million and earning the brigade the distinction of being named the Army's "Best of the Best."
The Thunder Brigade had two major keys to success -- planning and teamwork, said Maj. Jason M. Kahne, the executive officer for the 563rd ASB and formerly the brigade's support operations officer.
Spring brought both ideas together as Thunder Brigade assembled Task Force Wings, consisting of various aviation assets across the brigade, training in the event of a global contingency mission. During those months, planning was underway for joint training, utilizing premier training sites around the U.S. and involving Soldiers from other units.
May saw week after week of Changes of Command and Changes of Responsibility for all of the brigade's units. May 23, Col. Todd Royar handed over the reins to Col. Jimmy Blackmon, who took the guidon with pride.
"I am deeply humbled to be able to lead this Thunder team," said Blackmon. "Command is always a privilege; command in the time of war is a distinct honor."
His focus is readiness, and readiness is non-negotiable when it comes to fitness, training and discipline.
Summer brought days with intense heat, perfect for intense training. The units conducted small arms ranges for all organic weapon systems to qualify Soldiers on their assigned weapons.
The 101st is the best, particularly when it comes to tactical aviation assets, and the next few months proved that.
The 159th CAB participated in the Week of the Eagles Air Assault in early August, giving the Soldiers within the brigade invaluable experience planning and executing an air assault on a large scale with more than 15 aircraft, as well as delivering a phenomenal performance for an estimated 20,000 spectators.
In August, TF Wings conducted support operations with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
Such an alliance is a rarity, and provided tough, realistic training, strengthened during two different rotations -- the first was Joint Operations Aviation Exercise at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 19-29, and the last was at the Joint Readiness Training Center near Fort Polk, La., Oct. 2-23.
JRTC provided a world-class training opportunity for TF Wings to engage its mission-essential priorities via a complex enemy in a challenging operating environment. It also validated operations that took months of prior preparation on every level.
"The training was for us as a staff to develop our procedures and processes as a battalion," said Maj. Paul Moreshead, the operations officer for the 4th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt., and Task Force Wings.
Autumn allowed 159th CAB to shine in other ways. In early September, 3rd Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt., hosted a visit for distinguished guests from the Republic of Korea. October brought visits from Congressman Pete Visclosky as well as the Swedish Delegation. The purpose of the visits was to present a holistic view of how an attack Apache helicopter battalion conducts maintenance and operations.
International visits like this strengthen the global partnership that the U.S. has cultivated for years with allied nations.
Operations continued in early December as each battalion concluded the year with what they do best - training. The 563rd ASB conducted a Convoy Live Fire, and 7thSquadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, executed a leaders range walk at Fort Knox. Aviators with 3rd Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt., conducted an aerial gunnery and 7th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt., prepared extensively for next year's field training exercises. 4th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt. conducted rotations through the Air Qualification Course while simutlaneously supporting Medevac operations and Headquarters and Headquarters Company ensured personnel and Family readiness.
The training tempo was fast and furious, from sling loads to small arms ranges, from firefighting to field sanitation and from Medevac training to mass casualty training. Soldiers of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade are highly trained, disciplined and fit. They are members of a team built on trust and respect, devoted to its mission, Soldiers and Families.
Press on, Thunder Warriors.