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Multi-COMPO, Multi-Boss CAB

77th Combat Aviation Brigade / By COL Ryan T. Pace: In June 2016, National Guard units from 11 states and territories unknowingly embarked on one of the most challenging combat aviation brigade missions the U.S. Army has ever embraced. This multi-compo force (Active Duty, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve) would build the composition of the 77th Combat Aviation Brigade for their future accomplishments. The original deployment mission required the 77th CAB “Peacemakers” deploy only to Kuwait in support of Operation Spartan Shield (OSS). As the deployment drew closer to its conclusion, however, the picture was vastly different from the start. Rather than deploying as a CAB for a single division commander, operational requirements caused the 77th CAB to fulfill mission requirements for an unprecedented five separate major commands in support of three named operations spanning five countries in 12 distinct locations.

Soldiers assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment, 77th Combat Aviation Brigade, conducted deck landings in the Arabian Gulf, Oct. 11-12. The UH-60 Blackhawk and AH-64 Apache crews took turns landing their aircraft aboard the USNS Alan Shepard to qualify their crews in this type of maneuver. Upon completion of the qualification each set of aircraft was refueled by the vessel and flown back to Camp Buehring, Kuwait. / U.S. ARMY PHOTOS BY SGT AARON ELLERMAN

The First Step
The vast expanse of North Fort Hood’s acreage allows sound to travel far and wide with the unmistakable whup-whup-whup sounds of incoming helicopters announcing the arrival of 77th CAB “Peacemakers.” Soldiers and helicopters from 11 states and territories (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming) converged for collective training. The majority of the 1,200 COMPO 2 (National Guard) -=0rience, and the Arkansas-based brigade headquarters had no previously established working relationships with these units. The Peacemaker Brigade would soon include all three components of the U.S. Army.

While training at Ft. Hood, Texas, the 1st Army, Division West consistently challenged the brigade. This helped solidify the commander’s intent to ensure each Soldier understood the brigade’s mantra of “Win the Day.” If each Soldier improved a little each day and found a way to successfully accomplish the mission, the Peacemakers Brigade would be great. At first, the training seemed a bit “unrealistic” exemplified by rapidly relocating Forward Arming Refuel Points, jumping headquarters to conduct split based operations and the final culminating event: a 16 ship air assault consisting of all brigade airframe types. Soon after arrival in theater, however, the “unrealistic training” became the standard operating procedure.

In Theater
The 77th CAB arrived with the vast majority of troops positioned in Kuwait, and a few Soldiers in Afghanistan. In Iraq, there was a limited number of troops supporting a moderate array of attack, utility, and cargo helicopters alongside unmanned aircraft system (UAS) platforms. Within two weeks of arriving in theater, the CH-47 Chinooks performed a mixed platform multi-ship sling load mission. Soon after, the AH-64s from the 1-10th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB) fired the first Hellfire Missile in support of the Mosul Counter-Attack. This was the first direct fire engagement from U.S. Army rotary wing assets since 2011, and this tempo set the tone for the remainder of the CAB’s nine-month deployment.

Soldiers assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment, 77th Combat Aviation Brigade, conducted deck landings in the Arabian Gulf, Oct. 11-12. The UH-60 Blackhawk and AH-64 Apache crews took turns landing their aircraft aboard the USNS Alan Shepard to qualify their crews in this type of maneuver. Upon completion of the qualification each set of aircraft was refueled by the vessel and flown back to Camp Buehring, Kuwait. / U.S. ARMY PHOTOS BY SGT AARON ELLERMAN

Due to partnership constraints nearly 70 percent of the CAB’s aircraft had migrated into Iraq as a task force, while the majority of the leadership remained in Kuwait. This arrangement caused the Joint Task Force commanding general and the Joint Force Land Component Commander (CJFLCC) to work directly with battalion-level mission command for major daily kinetic combat operations. Deployment totals exceeded more than 2,000 engagements. This also placed a heavy burden on the ARB commander and staff to plan and provide attack missions in Mosul in addition to quick reaction force (QRF), utility, and cargo missions in Baghdad and Western Iraq while preparing for the imminent expansion into Syria. The CAB’s leadership proposed moving a separate brigade tactical command post forward with an additional general support aviation battalion headquarters in Iraq. This move would align the command structure with the primary lines of effort, provide better analysis of the battlefield and set the appropriate levels of mission risk, and give greater aviation expertise to the component command staffs.

The Peacemakers’ new mission requirements would not only support the OSS partnership mission in Kuwait but added conventional and nonconventional combat operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) while maintaining support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) in Afghanistan.

Mission Expansion
Midway through the deployment, the CAB TAC FWD and BN HQ received approval to move to their new location. This move provided the CAB commander and staff full access and visibility for the CJFLCC-OIR CG and staff. This move enabled the CAB to fully understand the commanding general’s intent, build mutual trust and strengthen valuable relationships. Building a network of operational and tactical control (OPCON/TACON) relationships, the 77th CAB now worked directly for two 3-star commands and three 2-star commands across 5 nations for the remainder of the deployment. The 77th CAB became equal members in the coalition team of teams.

COL Ryan T. Pace and CSM Thomas Mize case the 77th Combat Aviation Brigade Colors during their Transfer of Authority Ceremony to incoming 29th CAB on April 23, 2017 at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SSG ISOLDA REYES, 29TH COMBAT AVIATION BRIGADE, PUBLIC AFFAIRS

ff multi cPartnerships
While simultaneously redistributing CAB leadership across the region, the CAB remained fully engaged in the OSS mission. This mission required responses to threats in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The brigade and battalion command teams engaged in numerous senior leader visits with other countries in the region. The teams offered to participate and assist with collective training in a variety of missions including medical training, refuel operations and aviation related tasks. The combined training missions helped strengthen partner nation relations in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. The CAB diversified its response capabilities by working with other U.S. military services such as the Navy. The CAB qualified several crewmembers to land on Navy vessels in the Northern Arabian Gulf, conducted Naval Special Warfare exercises and developed training opportunities for personnel recovery missions. The brigade’s commitment to furthering the success in regional partnership resulted in 68 engagements – twice the amount of the previous brigade despite taking on the additional combat missions.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Building a UAS training base was another goal for the OSS mission. The UAS element needed some brigade level oversight and assistance since the unit came together only months before deploying with many of their Soldiers arriving directly from their formal instruction. Because the initial target hit ratio was less than favorable, creating a training base in theater enabled operators to become more adept before performing combat missions. The UAS unit proved the training schedule successful by exceeding all expectations. The unit flew the most flight hours with the greatest number of engagements and the highest hit ratio than any other UAS unit in the U.S. Army program’s history.

Mission Complete
A goal for many military leaders is to become a flatter, agile and more adaptive fighting force; the 77th CAB can say “mission complete!” Remaining well below force manning level constraints, the CAB deployed with 1¾ fewer battalions than traditional CABs to provide the same attack, lift, cargo, and UAS aviation capabilities. The Peacemakers sustained readiness rates with older airframes and operational readiness rates through a combination of innovative, out of the box thinking with hard work and grit. The “Multi-COMPO, Multi-Boss” brigade completed over 40,000 flight hours, hauled over 3.5 million pounds of cargo, nearly 35,000 thousand passengers and engaged over two thousand targets. Team success derived from the developed collective culture of continuously improving at all levels, always “finding a way to yes” and “Win the Day” each and every day!

COL Ryan T. Pace is the commander of the 77th Combat Aviation Brigade headquartered in Little Rock, AR.

Looking Back