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11th Aviation Regiment commander Col. George Bilafer salutes his unit's colors for the final time as the 11th Aviation Regiment was deactivated Thursday in Illesheim, Germany.

11th Aviation Regiment commander Col. George Bilafer salutes his unit's colors for the final time as the 11th Aviation Regiment was deactivated Thursday in Illesheim, Germany. (Steve Liewer / S&S)

11th Aviation Regiment commander Col. George Bilafer salutes his unit's colors for the final time as the 11th Aviation Regiment was deactivated Thursday in Illesheim, Germany.

11th Aviation Regiment commander Col. George Bilafer salutes his unit's colors for the final time as the 11th Aviation Regiment was deactivated Thursday in Illesheim, Germany. (Steve Liewer / S&S)

The 11th Aviation Regiment's distinctive blue patch will now fade into history. The regiment, among the Army's first attack helicopter units, cased its colors in Illesheim, Germany, Thursday.

The 11th Aviation Regiment's distinctive blue patch will now fade into history. The regiment, among the Army's first attack helicopter units, cased its colors in Illesheim, Germany, Thursday. (Steve Liewer / S&S)

Retired Col. Benjamin Silver was there when the Army stood up the 11th Aviation Regiment (then called the 11th Air Assault Division) in February, 1963, and was its first executive officer. Now 83, and the only surviving member of its first command group, he was in Illesheim to see the regiment case its colors for the final time.

Retired Col. Benjamin Silver was there when the Army stood up the 11th Aviation Regiment (then called the 11th Air Assault Division) in February, 1963, and was its first executive officer. Now 83, and the only surviving member of its first command group, he was in Illesheim to see the regiment case its colors for the final time. (Steve Liewer / S&S)

Col. George Bilafer and Command Sgt. Maj. Luis Baez roll up the colors of the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment.

Col. George Bilafer and Command Sgt. Maj. Luis Baez roll up the colors of the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment. (Steve Liewer / S&S)

ILLESHEIM, Germany — Retired Col. Benjamin Silver calls himself the “grandfather” of the 11th Aviation Regiment.

He helped give birth to the Army attack-helicopter unit as the executive officer of what was then called the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) in February 1963, back when the idea of using helicopters in combat seemed strange and new.

Now 83, he watched along with about 500 soldiers and guests as the last few members of the regiment’s headquarters company retired the 11th Aviation colors for what is likely the final time.

But Silver isn’t shedding any tears.

“Change is inevitable. We have to prepare for the future,” he said before the ceremony. “We’ve got a different type of war going on right now.”

The end of 11th Aviation is part of the Army’s aviation transformation plan, a separate but complementary effort to the Army’s overall shift from a corps and division structure to brigade “units of action.”

U.S. Army Europe has announced plans to make the Army airfields at Illesheim and nearby Katterbach the home of USAREUR’s planned aviation brigade. Some of the AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawks already stationed there will stay under new flags. Some CH-47 Chinooks will move there as well.

“The Army must transform,” said Col. George Bilafer, the regiment’s outgoing commander, “and we must transform with it.”

The 11th Aviation’s inactivation affects about 95 soldiers and 60 family members. All but a few of the soldiers and officers have moved on to other units, said Command Sgt. Maj. Luis Baez, the unit’s senior enlisted soldier.

Silver said Defense Secretary Robert McNamara ordered the 11th Aviation’s creation to test the then-new concept of “air mobility.” After two years in Georgia, the unit was renamed the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and sent to Vietnam, where it stayed until the end of the war. The division earned Presidential, Valorous and Meritorious unit awards and numerous battle ribbons there.

In 1973, it took back the 11th Aviation name and moved to Germany, landing in Illesheim in 1988. In the Persian Gulf War, its then-new Apaches mounted strikes deep into Iraqi territory. The unit deployed to Bosnia- Herzegovina in 1996 and Albania in 1999.

During the fall of 2002, the 2-6 Cavalry led a quick-reaction force in Kuwait in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The rest of the regiment followed six months later. Its Apaches racked up 13,300 flight hours in 18 months, and the 2-6 Cavalry earned a Presidential Unit Citation for its support of the 3rd Infantry Division during the April 2003 assault on Baghdad.

“Clearly the place of the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment in the Army’s history is secure,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel Hahn, V Corps deputy commander, using the regiment’s other common name.

Still, for those who went to war with the unit so recently, it seemed odd to see the colors cased.

“It’s sad to see my first unit, the one I learned aviation with, go away,” said Capt. Carrie Bruhl, the regiment’s operations and force- protection officer. “But we’re moving on to better things.”

“I’m going to miss a good unit,” said Staff Sgt. Karim Majid, who spent the last 2½ years with 11th Aviation.

The regiment’s books will officially close on Aug. 15. Baez, who is slated to retire from the Army in early September after 34 years, will be its last soldier.

“It’s part of Army transformation,” he said. “It’s the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another.”


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