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JBLM's Army aviation brigade headed to Afghanistan in 2014

Petroleum supply specialists from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, 7th Infantry Division take turns conducting hot refuel training on a CH-47 Chinook at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Nov. 26, 2013.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Army aviation brigade is heading to Afghanistan in 2014, the Defense Department announced Friday.

The upcoming deployment for the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade will be the first for the unit since it set up its headquarters at the base in August 2011.

It is taking about 1,700 soldiers, according to the Pentagon. Not all of the soldiers are based at Lewis-McChord. The aviation brigade has some Alaska-based elements.

Another significant part of the aviation brigade currently is serving in South Korea. The Kiowa-flying 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment deployed to South Korea in September for a nine-month assignment.

The soldiers going to Afghanistan will fly Apache and Blackhawk helicopters. Even though the war is drawing down, helicopter crews remain vital for operations in the mountainous country.

The brigade has about 3,000 soldiers at Lewis-McChord and at Fort Wainwright in Alaska. Not all of them are going to Afghanistan, brigade spokesman Capt. Jesse Paulsboe.

They’re all preparing as if they’re going to be picked for the mission.

“Every soldier in the unit should be training as if they are going down range,” Paulsboe said. Commanders are “constantly evaluating who ultimately will go. That decision will not be completely finally in stone” until just before the deployment.

Aviators from the Lewis-McChord brigade have been preparing for the mission with training exercises in Yakima, Idaho and Southern California.

The brigade is preparing a pre-deployment resource fair for families of deploying soldiers that will take place in February. The soldiers will start leaving this spring, Paulsboe said.

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