Aviation Unit Supports ‘Surge’ Forces in Baghdad
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 15, 2007 As the troop surge in Baghdad approaches full force, the aviation unit that controls the skies over Iraq’s capital is changing tactics daily to keep a leg up on the enemy, the unit’s commander said today.
Army Col. Daniel Ball, commander of 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, told Pentagon reporters via a satellite broadcast that his unit is providing air support for ground troops, ferrying soldiers and equipment around the battlefield, and helping stem the flow of “accelerants” into Baghdad.
The unit, part of 3rd Infantry Division, is the first combat aviation brigade to deploy to Iraq for the third time. It supported the “Marne Division” during the initial invasion in March 2003, then returned during the Iraqi elections in 2005.
Most recently, the brigade arrived in Iraq in May, setting up shop at the Baghdad International Airport and working under the auspices of Multinational Division Center. The unit became fully operational June 13.
“It’s almost as if we’ve come full circle,” Ball said.
He noted that the brigade operated from the same airport during its first deployment, using the same aircraft hangars it’s now using to maintain its aircraft.
While some aspects of the mission are déjà vu to the unit’s pilots and their support troops, Ball said, the nature of the current threat has forced them to operate differently.
Flying 250 to 280 hours a day, the unit’s 116 aircraft experience a “SAFIRE event” -- meaning they get fired on by a surface-to-air weapon -- about twice a week, Ball said.
Only one of Ball’s aircraft has been hit since arriving here, temporarily taking a pilot out of operation before he could go back to duty. “That’s because of the skill of our pilots and the fact that we’re trying to stay one step ahead of them by changing the way we fly, our techniques and tactics,” he said.
During today’s briefing, Ball showed videos of his unit at work foiling enemy efforts. Two clips showed unit assets engaging vessels crossing the Tigris River: one ferrying enemy fighters and material and another moving accelerants.
Another video showed unit assets destroying an expedient bridge built by enemy forces to bypass coalition checkpoints set up along roads leading in and out of Baghdad.
Despite these successes, Ball acknowledged that the unit will face challenges during its deployment here. “I won’t sit here and tell you that this deployment’s going to be perfect,” he said. “We will face many hardships. … This is a long flight. We’re in it against an enemy that isn’t willing to give up easily.”
But Ball said he’s confident his troops have the experience and resolve to confront whatever comes their way. “Our soldiers and junior leaders are up to the challenge,” he said. “We’re warriors and professional, and I know that in the end we will prevail.”