From left, Command Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rich Huber, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jones, Staff Sgt. Vergia Farrow, Col. Alan Gronewold and Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas poses for a photo in front of the Task Force Phoenix T-wall at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (Photo Credit: Maj. Jason Sweeney)

Mission complete. Task Force Phoenix heads home after 9-month mission in the Middle East

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Task Force Phoenix Over the Horizon (OTH) force CH-47 Chinook helicopters arrive at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, on Aug. 3, 2021. The OTH helicopters are flown by crews from Task Force Phoenix’s 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), from the Minnesota National Guard and Iowa National Guard. (Photo Credit: Maj. Jason Sweeney)

Mission complete. Task Force Phoenix heads home after 9-month mission in the Middle East

By Maj. Jason Sweeney

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — With the casing of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade’s red and blue colors, Task Force Phoenix’s nine-month mission in the Middle East formally came to an end.

On Jan. 6, Col. Alan Gronewold, Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas and Command Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rich Huber cased the colors during a Transfer-of-Authority ceremony in the base theater at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. The ceremony marked the official transfer of the mission from Task Force Phoenix to Task Force Eagle, 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.

“All of you should be very proud,” U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Brandon Parker, Chief of Staff, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, told the Soldiers of Task Force Phoenix in a speech during the ceremony. “You have worked tirelessly under very challenging conditions to fulfill our mission. And let me just state, I believe our mission to be the most righteous one—to assist in ridding the world of most unconscionable evil, that is ISIS.”

Parker said the 40th CAB played a critical role toward achieving a lasting defeat of Daesh and ISIS during a period when Operation Inherent Resolve transitioned from combat operations to an advise-and-assist role.

“Col. Gronewold, Task Force Phoenix, we owe you a debt of gratitude for which we can never repay,” Parker said. “You have paved the way for steady progress toward a day when ISIS is a distant memory.”

Led by the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Phoenix consisted of more than 1,700 Soldiers from a mix of active duty and Army National Guard units from nine states, as well as aviation squadrons from Spain and Italy. The task force’s aviation assets included UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook, AH-64 Apache, AS-532 Cougar and NH-90 Puma helicopters, and MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems.

The task force’s mission was 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 hostile actors in the region.

The two Army National Guard battalions in the task force were 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion) and the 640th Aviation Support Battalion. The active-duty Army’s Task Force Wolfpack, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, fell under Task Force Phoenix until October when it swapped out with Task Force Attack, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment. Task Force Toro, from Spain, and Task Force Griffon, from Italy, were under Task Force Phoenix’s tactical control.

“It has been the greatest honor of my military career to have served here with you on this great team of teams,” Gronewold said in a speech during the ceremony.

His Soldiers faced numerous challenges over the course of the deployment, including responsibility for a massive operational area over five countries in two theaters, extremely high desert temperatures, a two-week sandstorm, and enemy mortar, rocket and unmanned aerial system attacks.

“But you and your Soldiers persevered and overcame every obstacle in your way,” Gronewold said. “Your accomplishments have been huge.”

Those accomplishments included flying 13,500 manned flight hours, safely delivering 16,300 passengers, moving 2.8 million pounds of cargo, conducting 208 MEDEVAC missions and flying 14,000 unmanned flight hours. The brigade’s Soldiers fueled aircraft, delivered millions of pounds of cargo by ground, conducted aircraft maintenance to keep the fleet flying, as well as numerous other tasks required of a combat aviation brigade of 1,700 Soldiers.

Gronewold thanked his Soldiers for enhancing the reputation of the unit by their actions over the deployment. He thanked them and their families for the sacrifices they have made over the past year.

“As you head back home, hold your heads high with pride for what you have accomplished,” he said. “Well done. Phoenix! On fire!”

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