News: Soldiers from the Presidential Surge depart Afghanistan
Story by 1st Lt. Alexander Babcock
The first 80 soldiers return home from a year in Afghanistan over the next two weeks, bringing to a close a chapter of the war on terror as part of President Barack Obama’s Presidential Surge of 30,000 troops starting in 2010 and ending this summer. Soldiers deployed to all Regional Commands serving with the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, will reunite with family and friends at Fort Hood, Texas, upon their return.
At an awards ceremony in which many of those departing received Bronze Stars, Air Medals and NATO service medals, the highest ranking American commander in Regional Command – North, Brig. Gen. Sean Mulholland, praised the efforts of the brigade, now on the cusp of returning home.
"The 4th Combat Aviation Brigade exceeded the standard," he said. "In my recollection, my small 26 years in the Army, I've not ever seen a finer combat aviation unit."
The brigade saw combat across four regional commands and 20 separate locations, ranging over 120,000 square miles, the largest geographical area of any combat aviation brigade in theater. The 4th CAB expanded its operational reach along the border with Iran to the west and across borders with five countries in RC-North. Its missions in support of International Security Assistance Force conventional and Special Operations Forces totaled more than 55,000 flight hours, resulting in the deaths of nearly 1,000 enemy personnel, nearly 30 percent of all enemy killed throughout Afghanistan during the Presidential Surge. MEDEVAC helicopters with the 4th CAB saved more than 700 lives, including U.S., International Security Assistance Forces, Afghan National Army, Afghan National Security Force and Afghan civilians. Their accomplishments came from meager beginnings, largely occupying soil not yet built upon, using dirt for landing areas, tents for sleep and work, and enduring the scorching summer heat beneath an unforgiving Afghan sun.
For its efforts, the brigade saw soldiers decorated with seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, 54 Air Medals for Valor, 25 Army Commendation Medals for Valor, 125 Combat Action Badges and four Combat Medical Badges.
Though focused mostly on air missions, the 4th CAB’s influence on the region included management of Camp Marmal’s Base Operating Support-Integrator operation, Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration, and Mayor Cell responsibilities for all U.S. units deploying into RC-North. The brigade trained more than 3,500 multi-national personnel in weapons zeroing, vehicle rollover egress and countering improvised explosive devices. The brigade trained more than 900 ISAF and coalition service members in combat lifesaving and more than 30 Afghan Air Force in first aid. The 4th CAB also reconstituted an RC-N Civil Affairs team and Female Engagement Team to expand local governance and security. The 404th Aviation Support Battalion, a brigade asset, delivered more than 27,000 pounds of mail, 48,000 pounds of cargo and moved more than 750 people in an average week.
Maj. Jared Sloan, one of the 4th CAB soldiers returning home this week, shook hands with well-wishers, a smile beaming on his face, able to reflect on what he’s seen, knowing his work here is done. “To stand here and look back, to know you were a part of the surge, to know you made things better, is an immense feeling,” he said. “Going from an expeditionary mission with nothing to fully operational with facilities while doing a mission, it’s a testament to everyone in this brigade,” he said.
Sloan offered a word of advice to the unit replacing the 4th CAB, the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, also out of Fort Hood, Texas. “Realize that this environment is not Iraq,” he said. “It’s something we had to learn. It’s a different operational environment. It’s a different enemy. The faster they let go of the Iraq model and open their minds to the mission here, the easier the transformation will be.”
Though the 4th CAB will be part of a draw-down of American forces during the summer to the level before the surge, the United States plans to continue operations in Afghanistan through 2014. Capt. Daniel Goldberg, staff judge advocate for the 4th CAB, who is also heading home, summed up the spirit of fellow soldiers, saying “It’s nice to be going home, but I feel as though there’s a lot left to be done here.”