The 185th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered in the Mississippi Army National Guard, mobilized in February at Fort Cavasos, Texas (formerly Fort Hood, Texas) to support Operations Inherent Resolve, Spartan Shield, and New Normal in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
Deployed as Task Force Talon, the 185th consists of units from 11 states’ Army National Guard, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont, organized into three battalions along with the brigade headquarters.
The 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, headquartered in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, headquartered in the Illinois National Guard, and the 642d Aviation Support Battalion, headquartered in the New York Army National Guard, came together for the first time in training at Fort Hood.
“There were three main goals for the post-mobilization training at Ft. Hood,” said Col. J. Ashley Mills, the task force commander. “The first was to build the team by bringing together over 1200 Soldiers from 11 states. The second was to rapidly develop everyone’s expertise in their military job, and the third was to synchronize individual talents into a team focused on one goal.”
Bringing so many citizen Soldiers together, many for their first deployment, presented some challenges that the Soldiers worked through during training.
“The challenge was transitioning people from an individual mindset to one focused on the mission,” said Mills. “Many Soldiers are young or have never deployed. We overcame this by managing Soldiers’ expectations and consistently enforcing standards.”
All Army Standard Mission Essential Tasks from the headquarters down to individual Soldiers’ tasks were trained, including weapons qualifications, driver’s training, maintenance, pilot and crew readiness, operations, and communications, said Lt. Col. Wangston Sylvien, the task force operations officer.
Training encompassed the brigade’s seven doctrinal aviation missions, including reconnaissance, security, medical evacuation, maintenance, cargo and troop movement, and air traffic control.
One of the culminating training events exercised aviation expeditionary operations involved moving over 400 Soldiers, over 45 vehicles and 20 aircraft from Fort Hood to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Another milestone was the planning and execution of seven air assault missions which are the most complex aviation taskings, and being validated as a Go on all, said Sylvien.
Focusing on Readiness, the brigade used available resources to introduce training pathways and staff interventions not commonly performed at a mobilization station. The unit brought a decommissioned UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to allow maintenance specialists to practice and certify on tasks that would typically only be performed when aircraft require maintenance. The air traffic controllers co-trained with their active component counterparts stationed at Fort Hood and volunteers from the Civil Air Patrol to validate their Precision Approach Radars and personnel.
The brigade Judge Advocate General became aware of Soldiers who enlisted under special provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act that were in the process of applying for citizenship. The legal section worked directly with the United States Customs and Immigration Service in San Antonio, Texas to expedite those applications. Ten Soldiers were sworn in as U.S. citizens, and a special ceremony was held to honor the Soldiers where Col. Mills administered the Oath of Enlistment to the Soldiers as new citizens.
With the complexity and inherent risks involved in aviation operations, Task Force Talon leadership continuously enforced safety standards throughout the pre-deployment training to ensure that Soldiers stayed vigilant.
“The leadership team of the 185th Aviation Brigade takes the safety and welfare of each Soldier seriously,” said Mills. “Our Soldiers are our greatest strength. We will mitigate risk to the greatest extent possible to ensure all our Soldiers are safe and return home. Additionally, we will make every effort to improve the quality of life for each Soldier to the extent of our abilities.”
The task force prepared Soldiers and equipment to travel to Kuwait, after being assessed for deployment by their active component mobilization and training validators, the 166th Aviation Brigade, First Army in April. Once arrived in Kuwait, they began a relief-in-place of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, and received the 4th Attack Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment into the task force.
A Transfer of Authority ceremony, conducted on May 9, at Camp Buehring, symbolized the 185th ECAB assuming the aviation operations mission for the U.S. CENTOM area of responsibility as the leaders of the 36th CAB cased their units’ colors, and the 185th ECAB leaders uncased theirs.
(At the time of interviews in this article Fort Cavazos, Texas was not officially changed from Fort Hood, Texas. That change was official on May 9, 2023)