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Fort Drum aviators formally mark deployment’s end; commander talks future


FORT DRUM — As his unit prepares for missions ahead, the commander of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade recounted his soldiers’ work in Afghanistan during their recently completed nine-month deployment.

The soldiers were charged with supporting ground forces in eastern Afghanistan in a variety of ways, from air assaults to medical evacuations.

“It’s an extremely challenging environment for aviation, with the mountainous terrain, tough weather, and our soldiers did that extremely well across the board, and did it extremely safely,” Col. David J. Francis said.

The brigade marked the end of its deployment with a ceremony at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, after which Col. Francis spoke to the media.

Among the highlights for the brigade’s approximately 1,800 deployed soldiers were completing 110,000 flight hours, conducting 650 air assaults and moving 100,000 passengers. Col. Francis said his soldiers performed about five times faster during deployment than they do when they’re on home turf, and kept it up during the more violent summer months.

“All of your systems have to be up and running,” the commander said.

The brigade also supported Afghan aviators, and Col. Francis said he saw “steady progress” from their partners.

The upcoming relaunch of training for the brigade and its soldiers also comes as it will add new unmanned aircraft to its fold.

The unit is scheduled to add eight to 10 MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones by July. The unmanned, 3,600-pound aircraft, equipped with up to four Hellfire missiles, has been used for a variety of missions, including surveillance, convoy protection and air support. It is about a third of the size of the MQ-9 Reaper used at the Drum airfield by the New York Air National Guard.

Col. Francis said he had a chance to see them in action, and he liked what he saw. “It’s a huge multiplier for us on the battlefield,” he said.

Their place on the airfield could be formalized this year. The new Army budget, released Tuesday, set aside $27 million for the post to create a hangar to house the new fleet.

With the full brigade back, the colonel also gave advance notice that his unit’s aircraft are again going to be a visible and audible presence in the region as it undergoes training.

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