The 166th “Archangels” Aviation Training Brigade was reactivated during a ceremony at Cameron Field near First Army Division West headquarters Friday.
The unit was inactivated in 2015 during the Army’s drawdown, but was officially activated at June 1 thanks to funding approved by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act. The brigade will consist of 175 soldiers.
The brigade is the only aviation training brigade in First Army and will provide pre-mobilization and post-mobilization training and certification for National Guard and Reserve Component aviation units, which currently consist of 48 percent of all U.S. Army aviation assets.
Brigade commander Col. Ronald Ells said since the 2015 deactivation the Army saw a demand for National Guard and Reserve aviation units in various theaters of operations around the globe.
“The Army commissioned a large study called the ‘Holistic Army Aviation Task Force’ and there were two or three findings that were tied to how we’re preparing our Guard and Reserve formations to go and deploy, and some of that was the impetus for bringing the unit back,” Ells said.
Ells said only a single battalion of 90 soldiers remained after the 2015 deactivation, which meant a small number of personnel had to prepare 1,500 soldiers in a Guard or Reserve aviation brigade for deployment.
“They needed a little help with that and that’s what brought the brigade back,” Ells said. “So, (Army) authorized a brigade and a sister battalion to stand up and help manage the increasing load of aviation formations.”
The brigade at Fort Hood will be comprised of a headquarters and headquarters company, the 2nd Battalion, 291st Aviation Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 351st Aviation Regiment.
Ells said the need for the brigade was not due to any increased conflict or new conflict on the horizon.
“I think the Army realized that as the missions continue on, and continue to address contingencies worldwide, the demand is slowly on the uptick,” Ells said. “It was more than one battalion could handle.”
Ells said there are 10 National Guard and Reserve aviation brigades on a five-year training cycle with two brigades each year in the window for possible deployment. The brigade will be responsible for training those units that are in that deployment window.
“Over the past six months the ‘Archangels’ have mobilized two battalion-sized task forces, one theater sustainment aviation group and an entire combat aviation brigade,” Ells said.
Maj. Gen. Erik C. Peterson, the First Army Division West commanding general, said the nation and the Army’s leadership was placing increased emphasis on military readiness and the reliance on National Guard and Reserve forces.
“The simple fact is the Army cannot accomplish its increased complex global mission without our Reserve component teammates.” Peterson said. “This new normal places an increased demand on First Army and our vital mission of building Reserve component readiness and deploying Reserve component units.”
Peterson said four years ago the budget and Army were shrinking, which caused U.S. Forces Command and First Army to implement “Operation Bold Shift” which reduced First Army force structure by nearly half.
“Under ‘Operation Bold Shift’ the 166th Aviation Brigade was inactivated on 1 June 2015 and its mission was consolidated under a single aviation training support battalion,” Peterson said.
Peterson said following this operation, the congressionally-chartered National Commission on the Future of the Army’s own internal aviation study recognized the substantial contribution of Army National Guard and Reserve component aviation and the risk of not having a First Army partner in support of their aviation training.
“Both reports recommended the reactivation of the 166th Aviation Brigade,” Peterson said. “The 166th Aviation Brigade, with its two aviation training battalions and the Royal Netherland air force’s 302nd Squadron, is purposely built to provide (U.S. Forces Command) an enhanced aviation training capability that increases aviation mobilization throughput and reduces risk to the aviation mobilization mission.”
The brigade was first constituted on Sept. 16, 1988 in the Army Reserve as the Headquarters, 166th Aviation Group. It was activated on Sept. 16, 1990 in Germany and inactivated on June 15, 1997. The brigade was activated into the active duty component on Oct. 2, 1997, as the 166th Aviation Brigade at Fort Riley, Kansas. On July 15, 2009 the brigade relocated to Fort Hood. The brigade was inactivated on June 1, 2015 then reactivated on June 1, 2018.