AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – The 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment (3-126 GSAB) from the Massachusetts Army National Guard is currently deployed to support the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. This operation aims to eliminate ISIS in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. The 3-126 GSAB is one of three battalions of the 185th Aviation Brigade, headquartered in the Mississippi Army National Guard.
Within the 3-126 GSAB are Army National Guard units from Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, New York, and Connecticut. These units are responsible for conducting various aviation operations in multiple locations across the combined-joint operations area (CJOA), including medium-lift, heavy-lift, air ambulance, air traffic, precision radar support, aviation maintenance, fuel, armament, and ground vehicle support operations.
The GSAB’s mission is to provide operational reach to brigade and theater-level commanders by offering different aviation capabilities. According to Lt. Col. Jim Paulette, the 3-126 GSAB commander, the battalion’s flight companies play a crucial role in providing medical evacuation, heavy-lift, and medium-lift capabilities. Equally important are the support companies that provide administrative, operational, logistical, aviation, and ground vehicle maintenance, fuel, armament, and air traffic services. Each company within the GSAB contributes to the success of the battalion, as they ensure the aircraft are operational in all aspects.
Preparing a cohesive team consisting of units from five different states requires detailed planning and training. The units began training for their Mission Essential Tasks (METs) during pre-mobilization and further honed their skills at Fort Cavazos in Texas during post-mobilization. Despite limited time and a lack of experienced aviators and maintainers, the battalion aimed to ensure that all the necessary tasks were trained before deployment.
Challenges arose as the battalion moved from Fort Hood, Texas, to Southwest Asia. The weather conditions, altitudes, and hostile environments presented different obstacles, but the crew’s experience and risk mitigation played vital roles in adapting to the theater. The limited time for training meant that the deployment itself became equally important for the soldiers to gain experience and improve their capabilities.
Once deployed to the CENTCOM area of operations, the GSAB found themselves dispersed throughout the theater, facing unforeseen circumstances and expectations. However, the soldiers adapted exceptionally well, meeting the mission requirements despite changes in mission, location requirements, difficult supply channels, and other variables. Problem-solving skills were put to the test, allowing them to efficiently cross-level personnel, equipment, and aircraft to accomplish their tasks.
Halfway through their deployment, the battalion has already made a significant impact. They have conducted over 490 missions, logging more than 2,295 flight hours, 32,100 maintenance hours, and pumping 295,000 gallons of fuel. They have moved over 3,500 passengers and carried 820,000 pounds of cargo throughout the CJOA. The high tempo of operations keeps the soldiers busy, but the command understands the importance of their well-being. Resources are made available, and downtime is scheduled to ensure the soldiers have time to rest and recuperate.
The command team, including the battalion chaplain, provides access to mental health resources and counseling to support the soldiers’ overall well-being. They also check in regularly with the soldiers, although the dispersed nature of the operations makes it challenging to visit every location. Despite the austere conditions in some areas, efforts are made to rotate forces and provide varied experiences for the soldiers.
As the deployment progresses, the GSAB soldiers are already preparing to hand over their positions to the incoming units. They aim to pass on knowledge, lessons learned, and best practices that were developed through their hard work and personal pride in their duties. Their focus on safety and success has set the conditions for the future of Army aviation.
In conclusion, the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, from the Massachusetts Army National Guard has been instrumental in supporting the U.S. and partner nations’ efforts to eliminate ISIS in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Despite challenges and limited training time, the battalion has successfully conducted numerous missions, showcasing their professionalism and dedication. As they look towards the second half of their deployment, they aim to continue making a positive impact while ensuring the well-being of their soldiers.