By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – The 1st Cavalry Division's aviators cased their colors Thursday, becoming the first combat troops to officially begin the division's return to Iraq.
The division is scheduled to replace the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq by the end of the year.
The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade follows the division's 15th Sustainment Brigade, which deployed in August to Taji, Iraq. It also follows a medical evacuation unit from Fort Carson, Colo., which is to be attached to the brigade while it is in Iraq.
Thursday's ceremony was largely symbolic. An advance party is to depart in the next few weeks, and all aviation brigade soldiers are to be in Iraq by the end of October, said Col. Daniel Shanahan, the commander.
The aviation brigade last deployed to Iraq in March 2004. This time the brigade is taking only a third of its equipment. The soldiers are to take over the 4th Infantry's useable equipment in Iraq.
"It's the best maintained in the Army right now and I've got full confidence in our transition process," Shanahan said.
While deployed, the brigade will provide tasks such as air cover for convoys and troop and supply transportation. Those units will "build on efforts" of the 4th Infantry, said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, 1st Cavalry's commander.
The deployment is the first for about one third of the brigade's troops, Shanahan said.
Still, having seasoned veterans will be an advantage the division did not have during its first deployment in 2004, said Lt. Col. Christopher Joslin, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment commander.
"I know they changed a lot in the year that we were there and I'm sure that they've changed a lot in the weeks and months since we left, so we're going to have to see how that goes," he said.
Units have stayed busy since their deployment to the Mideast ended in April 2005.
Joslin's battalion was sent to help rescue victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which struck the Gulf Coast within weeks of each other last fall.
The battalion deployed immediately after the first storm hit and were the first active-duty soldiers on the scene, Joslin said.
For three weeks in Louisiana, soldiers plugged a levee gap and transported about 40,000 people and 6 million pounds of supplies in the wake of Katrina. The effort was repeated after Rita struck.
Three weeks later, 80 soldiers and six Chinook helicopters deployed to Pakistan after an earthquake devastated the military ally. The battalion's humanitarian relief efforts ended in February 2006.
Joslin said the experiences gave his soldiers real-world training and they couldn't possibly be better trained.
"What we did during those humanitarian relief missions was directly associated with what we do in combat," Joslin said.
Though 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment soldiers didn't participate in the humanitarian efforts, Lt. Col. Christopher Walach said they have benefited from more training and planning opportunities.
His troops are three things, he said: trained, ready and highly motivated.
Walach knows his Apache crews have a critical job in Iraq, supplying reconnaissance to the division and providing convoy security and close air support to units.
"When our aircraft fly, soldiers don't die in Iraq," he said.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org.