FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - The first group of approximately 100 arctic tough soldiers from 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, U.S. Army Alaska Aviation Task Force gathered early this morning with their families and friends for a warm sendoff as they start their nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.<br /> <br /> For some it this deployment is a first, for others it’s just another notch in the belt. These men and women make up the advance party, which is the first group to leave Fort Wainwright and arrive in Afghanistan. These soldiers have a very important role to play.<br /> <br /> “As we deploy into any theater, we send small element ahead, the advance party, with key leaders and key personnel that really set the conditions for training,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Barrett, 1-52nd commander. “So when the main body shows up, there is somebody there with a plan to receive them and execute the training.”<br /> <br /> The 1-52nd will assist the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, stationed at Joint base Lewis–McChord, while they are deployed. Their mission in Afghanistan includes aerial assault, medical evacuation, troop transportation, and possibly assist in the draw-down of forces, repositioning troops and equipment to be moved out of Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> About 300 aviation soldiers will remain at Fort Wainwright to cover the missions here as well as stand ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, if needed.<br /> <br /> “This team is well trained and ready to go,” Barrett said, “and will represent the Army well."