Story and photo by Spc. Matthew A. Wright
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – The 640th Aviation Support Battalion, a California National Guard unit deployed here in support of Operation New Dawn, is preparing to split its operations between Iraq and Kuwait before finally heading home.
The 640th ASB, the only aviation support battalion remaining in Iraq, has provided aviation support to all the Army aviation units assigned to the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade for the last nine months.
“We are responsible for all logistics, communications and scheduled aircraft maintenance for the brigade,” Lt. Col. Lou Carmona, the 640th ASB’s battalion commander, said.
The battalion is based in several cities in Southern California, including Torrance, El Cajon, Fresno, Stockton and Los Alamitos. It is organic to the 40th CAB and is headquartered is in Long Beach, Calif. The 40th CAB arrived in Iraq last February and is now preparing to head home over the next few weeks after successfully completing its mission in Iraq.
The 640th ASB played an essential role providing aviation support during the deployment. The battalion’s main base of operations has been Camp Taji, with detachments in Balad, Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) and Kirkuk. Several hundred Soldiers were assigned to four companies in the battalion, performing four different support jobs.
Headquarters Company, 640th ASB, consists of wheeled-vehicle mechanics, medics, cooks, as well as the command staff for the battalion. It contains the largest group of medics and cooks in the brigade, and its wheeled-vehicle and generator mechanics have been responsible for working on the vehicles and generators operated by other companies in the brigade.
Alpha Company, 640th ASB, operated Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) at Camp Taji and Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) and provided security for the brigade. At Camp Taji, Alpha Company fueled all aircraft that flew missions throughout central Iraq. Its fuelers also provided gas for Iraqi Army aircraft.
Early on in the deployment, the 640th’s Personnel Security Detail (PSD) provided security for supply and personnel convoys in the Baghdad area, and later, security for Camp Taji airfield.
Bravo Company, 640th ASB, is the largest company in the battalion with more than 300 personnel assigned. The company’s aviation maintenance personnel ordered, tracked, warehoused and issued parts once they arrived in theater, and made sheet metal repairs to the helicopters. Also, the company’s mechanics and electricians completed phase maintenance inspections on all aircraft to ensure that the parts were replaced and met all checked functions so they could perform their missions. Company maintenance test pilots put the helicopters through the prescribed flight checks after maintenance to make sure that they were mission ready.
Charlie Company maintained and operated tactical communications and provided tactical, or mobile, communications for brigade units at Kirkuk, Taji and Speicher.
"The 640th ASB played a crucial role during OND 10-11 (Operation New Dawn year 2010-2011),” said Maj. Noland Flores, the 640th ASB’s executive officer. “It is the only aviation support battalion in Iraq, providing all classes of supply to the largest aviation brigade ever assembled—the 40th CAB.
“We currently support seven aviation battalions,” 640th Command Sgt. Maj. Bryon Robinson said. “Our Soldiers have pumped almost two million gallons of JP-8 jet fuel, completed 144 aircraft phases, and in the month of September, 14 CH-47D (Chinook Helicopters) broke a record by flying more hours per airframe than ever before in the Army. They were able to do this because the 640th completed scheduled maintenance and inspections quicker than the Department of the Army standard timeline.”
Another 640th accomplishment was training members of the Iraqi Army which will help the Iraq Army as American bases and military sites transition to Iraqi control after the U.S. military departs Iraq.
Soldiers from Alpha Company, 640th ASB recently conducted a week-long class training Iraqi army personnel to operate Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks in preparation for the upcoming assumption of operations by Iraqi Security Forces at the Camp Taji airfield.
From July through August, the 640th Aviation Support Battalion and the U.S. Air Force Base Transition Team trained Iraqi Army personnel on the maintenance and operation of backup generators for the airfield on Camp Taji.
Training the Iraqi Army and fueling weren’t the only things that 640th excelled at during its tour.
“We do whatever needs to get done so the aviation brigade can accomplish its mission,” Carmona said.
The battalion and the 549th Quartermaster Company worked in conjunction with the Mobility Redistribution Team (MRT) during Operation Clean Sweep to locate and turn in more than $12 million of excess non-property book equipment at Camp Taji, Flores said. The battalion has collected and itemized unused or misplaced military equipment that has accumulated over the eight years the Army has been here.
The equipment found on the post that was serviceable included automotive parts, such as tires, Gator utility vehicle parts and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle parts, and other items the military can make use of, said Capt. Joseph Adams, a planning officer with the 640th.
Carmona explained Alpha Company’s PSD team rehearsed missions outside the base to maintain proficiency in case it had to recover a helicopter or transport brigade leadership outside the base.
With the deployment coming to a close, the 640th’s job is far from over. To prepare for the drawdown of U.S. troops from the Iraqi theater, the 640th ASB has started split operations.
Carmona said that Bravo Company is in Kuwait to set up maintenance support for contingency aviation maintenance support of the theater due to the anticipated end of mission in Iraq.
The remainder of the 640th is currently at Camp Taji to continue its support operations there.
“In Taji, we are continuing to manage various classes of supply: Class I (food and water), Class III (fuel) and Class V (ammo),” Carmona explained. “We support the brigade with numerous sustainment missions, like fuel, airfield security, Chinook and Apache aviation maintenance, computer, signal and the Taji transportation control team.”
“As units roll out, we need to ensure the logistic train follows them,” Robinson said.
The 1204th Aviation Support Battalion from Kentucky assume the mission allowing the the 640th demobilize, travel home and celebrate their success with family and friends over the holiday’s.
“This is a historic time and the responsibility on everyone, from me to the newest private, was immense,” Carmona said.