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Task Force Phoenix halfway through Mideast mission

The Soldiers of Task Force Phoenix have endured intense heat with highs reaching above 120 degrees for nearly four months while conducting operations in five Middle Eastern nations.

“This an extremely challenging and austere environment,” said Col. Alan Gronewold, Task Force Phoenix commander. “Our Soldiers are working around the clock flying and fixing aircraft, fueling aircraft, moving and fixing vehicles, moving cargo via ground and air, throughout the theater of operations.”

As Task Force Phoenix crosses the halfway point on its nine-month deployment, the desert heat is finally letting up, with daily highs almost dipping below 100 degrees.

“Our Soldiers have performed superbly so far and they’re just hitting their peak right now,” Gronewold said. “I expect they’ll continue their high performance through the remainder of the deployment.”

Task Force Phoenix is a combat aviation brigade with a mission to execute air-ground operations in Kuwait, Iraq, the Eastern Syria Security Area, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield to sustain the military defeat of Daesh, enable growth and capability of partnered forces and deter Iranian aggression.

Led by the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Fresno, Calif., Task Force Phoenix consists of more than 1,200 Soldiers from a mix of active duty and Army National Guard aviation units from nine states. The Task Force’s assets include UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters, and MQ-1C Gray Eagle aerial systems. It is a multinational force that includes aviation units from Spain and Italy.

Task Force Phoenix Soldiers began arriving in theater in April. On May 16, its Soldiers relieved Task Force Anvil, led by Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade. Since then, Task Force Phoenix Soldiers have flown more than 16,000 flight hours, moved more than 10,000 passengers and 1.7 million pounds of equipment, and flown 551 VIP flights throughout the Combined Joint Area of Operations.

“What we’ve done so far is enabled Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve to have full freedom of maneuver around the area of operations,” Gronewold said. “We do that through moving critical personnel and cargo all around the theater. We move distinguished visitors on their battlefield circulations so they can get out to their troops. We do critical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance 24 hours a day through our Gray Eagle company. Our Apache attack helicopters also conduct reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and provide force protection. While they’re gathering intelligence on Daesh, they’re also helping deter our enemies from attacking our bases in Iraq and Syria.”

Task Force Phoenix Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas said the families back home have been critical to mission success. “Our Soldiers have overcome multiple challenges in moving from one place to another, adjusting to the battlefield, working around the clock,” Rosas said. “They’re doing great work, overcoming all those struggles that Soldiers have when being away from home and their families and adjusting to something new. They’re performing the mission at 120 percent every day and are doing great. First, I want to thank the families. I want to thank the families in their support for our Soldiers and our mission.”

With Task Force Phoenix crossing the halfway point, Gronewold and Rosas said Soldiers need to stay focused and beware of complacency.

“Stay focused on the mission and make yourself and your families proud by enhancing the reputation of your unit all the way to the end of the deployment,” Gronewold said. “Don’t get too focused on going home. We’ll be home when we get home.”

“Our Soldiers are doing great things,” Rosas said. “Whatever grade, rank, or position they hold, each of our Soldiers is a big part of the mission. I’m proud of all that they’ve accomplished so far and all that they will accomplish going forward.”

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