Combat aviators returning to Fort Bragg from Afghanistan mission
The Fayetteville Observer
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The 82nd Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade is preparing to return to Fort Bragg after a deployment to Afghanistan in which its helicopters flew more than 170,000 hours, more than any unit in history.
Col. T.J. Jamison, the brigade commander, and his top enlisted aide, Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Farmer, in a teleconference Thursday from Afghanistan, praised the work of their soldiers and said they're ready to see Fayetteville.
Some of the brigade's soldiers have returned to Fort Bragg in the past week, and the rest will continue over the next few weeks, they said.
"There is nothing better than seeing the look in a soldier's eye when they know they're going home," Farmer said.
About 2,500 soldiers from Fort Bragg and another 1,200 attached to the brigade in Afghanistan have spent the past 11 months covering the skies of Afghanistan.
The terrain is more mountainous and the population more scattered than in Iraq. Helicopters help close the gap and neutralize the terrain: Chinooks carry troops and supplies to remote outposts; Medevac crews speed to battlefields to assist the wounded; Apache and Kiowa helicopters provide air cover and intelligence for troops on the ground.
Jamison said his brigade's impact on the war is its constant presence in the sky, which provides a huge advantage over insurgents who rely mostly on homemade bombs and small arms.
"The biggest impact we've had is protection of U.S. forces on the ground," he said. "The other impact I've got to say that we've had is bringing our Afghan partners along in teaching them how to conduct aviation operations and aviation maintenance.''
Jamison and Farmer said it's important to remember that the pilots and flight crews couldn't do their jobs without soldiers keeping the helicopters maintained and others who refuel them.
"Flying over 170,000 hours is never possible without the soldiers that have been turning wrenches," Farmer said.
Farmer said he is stressing to soldiers that there's still a month left in the deployment, a month in which soldiers will continue their work while also training incoming soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division.
The brigade has lost four soldiers in Afghanistan. Seven were sent home with injuries.
Jamison confirmed Thursday that a helicopter crash reported to have killed 11 NATO troops did not involve an 82nd CAB aircraft, but he said he wasn't authorized to say anything else about the crash.
Soldiers are already being screened for any potential problems that may arise when they return home. Commanders look for signs of financial difficulties, marital stress or emotional imbalance.
"When a soldier gets home he'll have 48 hours off and go into an eight-day reintegration model that has points of contact and access to those resources for a problem that may not surface initially but will come back later," Jamison said. "We're absolutely committed to getting that right."