History in the making: the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion, the last Kentucky National Guard unit out of Iraq

Story by Specialist Matthew Dornbusch, 1204th Aviation Support Battalion Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative

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NOTE:  Each week kentuckyguard.com publishes stories by Kentucky National Guard unit public affairs historian representatives, also known as UPAHRs.  This is an additional duty taken on by a Soldier or Airmen with the intent of telling their unit’s story.  This is one such story ….

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Lt. Col. Tom Roach, Command Sgt. Maj. Tim Walton render honors at the transfer of authority ceremony for the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion, Camp Taji Iraq, 3 November 2011. (Kentucky National Guard photo)

 CAMP BEUHRING, Kuwait – On December 16th 2011 the Soldiers of the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion departed Contingency Operating Site Taji, Iraq bound for Kuwait, representing more than eight years of Kentucky National Guard operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

The story began four months earlier when on August 24th 2011 when the 1204th, under the command of Lt. Col. G. Tom Roach Jr., mobilized in support of Operation New Dawn. On August 27th Headquarters and Support Company and Alpha Company left their home station in Independence, Ky. to join units from four other states to include Alabama, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina in Fort Hood, Texas for mobilization training. For over 53 days the 600 Soldiers completed their validation and deployed to execute operations Iraq and Camp Buehring, Kuwait beginning October 1st 2011.

Following the uncasing of the battalion colors on November 3rd 2011, the 1204th quickly got to work, assuming the extraordinary responsibility of aviation logistics sustainment and support operations from COS Taji, while simultaneously planning for the withdrawal of the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade.

“The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Taji and the Iraq Joint Operations Area was the biggest such operation since the World War II,” said Roach. “The 1204th accomplished this with just 30% of the battalion’s strength forward.  The remainder of the battalion worked to establish operations in Kuwait to further support the 29th CAB’s mission.”

The variety of tasks were daunting but doable.  Plans had to be made to support for the 29th CAB over the final 45 days of aviation operations in Iraq, to include running arming and refueling points and supplying aviation repair parts.  Also, ground maintenance completed over 28 work orders with approximately 1,056 man-hours performed. Both teams were critical in keeping refueling equipment running around the clock.

“The Taji refueling point reminded me of a speedway you see off the side of a highway,” said Sgt. John Amburgey. “At times there would be aircraft in a line to get fuel. At one point we had 14 aircraft waiting on fuel.”

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Members of the Kentucky National Guard's 1204th Aviation Support Battalion service U.S. Army AH-64D helicopters at Camp Taji FARP.in Taji, Iraq. The 1204th is the last Kentucky National Guard unit out of Iraq. (Kentucky National Guard photo)

Alpha Company broke records by refueling nearly 100 aircraft in a twenty-four hour period. In the forty-five days, the fuelers at Taji pumped nearly 370,000 gallons of fuel into more than 2,600 American and Iraqi rotary wing aircraft.  Likewise, Echo Company refueled over 64 aircraft and pumped nearly 150,000 gallons of fuel.

Alpha Company’s transportation control team also manifested and oversaw the movement of 3,40 personnel and loaded over 580 pallets of equipment with a value of $26 million and requiring 100 flatbed trailers to move – all this five days ahead of schedule.

“It was a smooth process from beginning to end,” said Spc. Greg Woodring.  “Of course you’re going to have a learning curve not knowing the job, but we quickly learned.”

With aviation repair parts no longer locally available, the Soldiers of the 1204th developed procedures to use aviation transportation to move repair parts from Kuwait to Taji.  During this high operational tempo period, they processed over 400 high-priority requisitions valued at over $5 million.

Bravo Company – comprised of troops from Alabama, Florida & South Carolina – completed phase maintenance inspections and oversaw the relocation of contractor maintenance from Iraq to Kuwait. They shipped over 6,000 separate types of parts worth $60 million and filling over 100 flatbed trailers from Iraq to Kuwait.

While all this was going on Charlie Company kept everyone connected and talking, providing 24/7 operations network capability, redundant back-ups, communication security keys and secured video teleconferencing capabilities to the entire brigade with only five personnel.

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An Iraqi UH-1H hover taxis in for service by members of the Kentucky National Guard's 1204th Aviation Support Battalion in Taji, Iraq. The 1204th is the last Kentucky National Guard unit out of Iraq. (Kentucky National Guard photo)

The health and safety of deployed troops is always a concern.  To that end, the medical platoon treated more than 1,100 patients in just five weeks while at Taji.  These figures include Soldiers, Department of Defense employees, Department of State employees, and third country nationals.

According to Sgt. Jerrod Dean, “The 1204th Medical section upon arriving at COS Taji was a relatively inexperienced group of medics that in time were able to come together while working with other medical elements to provide above standard care to all personnel.”

The medical platoon also trained 117 civilians on basic medical care.

The 1204th Mortuary Affairs section had the unenviable distinction of participating in the last two KIA evacuations during Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn; the first a third country national killed in a truck convoy and the last for the personal effects of the last U.S. Soldier killed.

While conducting operations at Taji the 1204th was assigned to clear all equipment, buildings, and personnel.  In total they collected nearly $2 million worth of lost, abandoned or frustrated Army equipment; received 18 tons of ammunition valued at nearly $300,000, and cleared nearly 400 buildings of sensitive material.  They also coordinated the movement to Kuwait of nearly 1,400 containers, pieces of rolling stock, or over-sized items by 22 convoys during the final 30 days U.S. forces were in Iraq.

The 1204th’s legacy in Iraq is one to be proud of, said Roach.  “With the conclusion of Operation New Dawn and the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion wrote another chapter in the vaunted history of the 29th Division.

The 1204th ASB is currently stationed in Kuwait and continues to support the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade.

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