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10th Combat Aviation Brigade Commander discusses upcoming deployment

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FORT DRUM — A shift in strategy calls for a shift in thinking.

The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade commander said his unit’s coming deployment, with the goal of supporting instead of leading Afghan forces, will require such a shift.

“As their strategic environment changes, the way we support them changes,” said Col. David J. Francis, the brigade’s commander. “We adapt what we are doing to meet the needs of our ground forces.”

About 2,200 personnel will depart this spring for an anticipated nine-month deployment. During that time, the soldiers will perform a variety of missions, such as attack support, reconnaissance, air assault, medical evacuations and personnel movements.

It will be their fifth deployment since 2001 and their fourth to Afghanistan.

Col. Francis spoke about the mission last week in a phone interview with the Times.

This week, he is away from the post overseeing the brigade’s high-altitude training at Fort Carson, Colo.

He expressed no surprise the brigade received deployment orders.

“Our mission is to always be ready, regardless of what mission the Army gives us,” he said. “I’m 100 percent confident in the abilities and the training of our soldiers to perform activities in Afghanistan.”

In the past few months, soldiers from the brigade have completed exercises at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.

Brigade soldiers also helped in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, moving emergency personnel and supplies around the New York City area.

Decisions have not been finalized as to where the brigade will be located and how many of each type of soldier will deploy.

The deployment will be the first in which the brigade will use the M-model Black Hawk helicopter, which it spent several months training soldiers to use.

The helicopter features a much-improved digital interface that can help control the aircraft, allowing pilots to focus on the situation on the ground.

The brigade received a large number of high-level military awards during the last deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, including seven Distinguished Flying Crosses and more than 80 Air Medals with Valor.

Col. Francis said the award recipients are an inspiration to their fellow soldiers as they prepare to leave.

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