Task Force Phoenix rises again in the Middle East

After more than two years of preparation and training, the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, as Task Force Phoenix, formally assumed its overseas mission.
For the next nine months, the Task Force will provide full-spectrum aviation operations for the U.S. Central Command’s Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield.

“The road to get here has not been easy—but we have overcome all challenges, and met them head on, with a smile,” Task Force Phoenix commander Col. Alan Gronewold said in a speech during the ceremony. “Every one of you has made a sacrifice to be here, as have your families, friends, and co-workers. I am grateful for all you have done up to this point, and I am grateful for all you will do.”

For many in the Task Force, this is not their first tour here. The 40th CAB headquarters and two of its battalions deployed to Iraq in 2010-2011 in support of Operation New Dawn. For that deployment, the 40th CAB headquarters was the command element for the largest CAB in history, responsible for the entire Iraq area of operations. The 40th CAB returned to the Middle East in 2015-2016 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield.

40th CAB units at all echelons have deployed a total of 25 times since 1998 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and for missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, giving the 40th CAB the distinction of being the most deployed brigade in the California National Guard.

“The challenge before us is daunting—we cover battlespace in two different theaters, across five countries, and 13 locations, and we’re doing it with less personnel and aircraft than anyone before us,” Gronewold said during his speech. “But we are ready—this is what we do.”

From left: Command Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rich Huber, Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas and Commander Col. Alan Gronewold uncase the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade’s colors during a Transfer of Authority ceremony at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. The uncasing of the colors marks the official beginning of the mission for Task Force Phoenix in the Middle East. (Army photograph by Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Sheldon)

Task Force Phoenix brings a formidable array of aircraft to the fight against Daesh and ISIS. It has UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters in its line-up, as well unmanned aerial systems. In all, the Task Force includes National Guard units from nine states and an active-duty U.S. Army attack helicopter battalion.

The units include the 40th CAB Headquarters and Headquarters Company; the active-duty Army’s 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade; and two Army National Guard battalions: 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion) and the 640th Aviation Support Battalion.

British Brigadier Richard Bell, Deputy Commanding General for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve was one of the distinguished visitors attending the Transfer of Authority ceremony.

“To the women and men of the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, thank you, well done, leave with your heads held high as you return home,” Bell told the crowd. “To the new team, welcome, there is much work to do. Our enemy remains vigilant and will seek to test us at every turn. There will be challenges ahead but you have all of the skills and training to face them head on. Know that this mission is a righteous one and that you go forth into this deployment with the support of 78 nations behind you.”

During the ceremony, outgoing commander Col. Howard Lloyd and Command Sgt. Maj. Sean Livolsi cased the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade’s colors and Gronewold and Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas unfurled the 40th CAB’s, signifying the formal end of the mission for the 28th and the beginning for the 40th.

“I’m proud to serve alongside you as we defeat the enemies of the United States,” Gronewold said, concluding his speech. “We will do three things together every day: complete the mission, keep our honor clean, and enhance the reputation of this great unit. Phoenix—On Fire!”

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