The 16th Combat Aviation Brigade cased its colors March 21 to begin a nine-month tour in Afghanistan.
Brigade commander Col. Paul A. Mele told family members and well wishers who packed bleachers at Soldiers Field House on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Army authorized about 60 percent of 16th CABs Soldiers to deploy to southern Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The brigade moved to JBLM from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, in June 2011, though several elements remain at the Alaska post. Mele has commanded 16th CAB for nine months. He addressed an unspoken question shared by many in the audience: Why is the 16th CAB going to Afghanistan at all? Arent we done there?
The colonel said the brigade is deploying because thats where our customers need us right now.
Were going because 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division is going, Mele said. We are going because 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group is going.
The Soldiers and Afghan partners on the ground, important customers of the aviators, will need the aerial support that the 16th CAB provides. They are there to respond to their calls, Mele said.
A force cap limits the brigades deployed strength in Afghanistan, said Capt. Jesse Paulsboe, 16th CAB public affairs, About 1,200 of the brigades 2,000 JBLM-based Soldiers are making the trip.
A lot of the folks left behind can still support the unit deployed, from home, Paulsboe said of the administrative personnel remaining at JBLM.
The 4th Attack/Reconnaisance Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, a JBLM-based 16th CAB unit that flies the OH-58D Kiowa, is on a rotation in South Korea until the end of summer. The Tennessee National Guards 1/230th Air Cavalry Squadron and its Kiowas will take up the 4-6 role, Paulsboe said.
All told, the brigades total of about 3,000 Soldiers at JBLM and Fort Wainwright, is deploying half of them to Afghanistan.
The 16th CAB also is helping with the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, Mele said, but its unknown if its Soldiers will assist in helping train Afghan National Army units. The 1st Cavalry Divisions CAB, which 16th CAB will replace, did not train Afghan aviation personnel under its mission, Mele said.
The colonel didnt rule out either training mission, tasks of which can evolve in theater, he said. But the units core mission remains the same.
Ultimately, all of the services the information, the protection, the things we do serve some higher ground force commander, Mele said. Our success only comes with their success.
1st Attack Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment (Apaches)
2nd Assault Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (Black Hawks)
46th Aviation Support Battalion
1st General Support Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment from Fort Wainwright, Alaska (Chinooks)
Headquarters and Headquarters Company