Task Force Phoenix passes halfway point

Cal Guard’s 40th CAB leads nine month Middle East mission

Story and photos by Maj. Jason Sweeney
40th Combat Aviation Brigade

Oct. 13, 2021

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — The Soldiers of Task Force Phoenix have endured intense heat with highs reaching above 120-degrees for nearly four months straight while conducting operations in five Middle Eastern nations.

“This an extremely challenging and austere environment,” Task Force Phoenix commander Col. Alan Gronewold said. “Our Soldiers are working around the clock flying and fixing aircraft, fueling aircraft, moving and fixing vehicles, moving cargo via ground and air, throughout the theater of operations.”

As Task Force Phoenix crosses the halfway point on its nine month deployment, the desert heat is finally letting up, with daily highs almost dipping below 100 degrees.

“Our Soldiers have performed superbly so far and they’re just hitting their peak right now,” Gronewold said. “I expect they’ll continue their high performance through the remainder of the deployment.”

Task Force Phoenix is a combat aviation brigade with a mission to execute air-ground operations in Kuwait, Iraq, the Eastern Syria Security Area, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield in order to sustain the military defeat of Daesh, enable growth and capability of partnered forces and deter Iranian aggression.

Led by the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Phoenix consists of more than 1,200 Soldiers from a mix of active duty and Army National Guard aviation units from nine states. The Task Force’s assets include UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters, as well as MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems. It is a multinational force that includes aviation units from Spain and Italy.

Task Force Phoenix Soldiers began arriving in theater in April. On May 16, its Soldiers relieved Task Force Anvil, led by Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade. Since then, Task Force Phoenix Soldiers have flown more than 16,000 manned and unmanned flight hours, moved more than 10,000 passengers and 1.7 million pounds of equipment and flown 551 VIP flights throughout the Combined Joint Area of Operations.

“What we’ve done so far is enabled Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve to have full freedom of maneuver around the area of operations,” Gronewold said. “We do that through moving critical personnel and cargo all around the theater. We move distinguished visitors on their battlefield circulations so they can get out to their troops. We do critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance 24 hours a day through our Gray Eagle company. Our Apache attack helicopters also conduct reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and provide force protection. While they’re gathering intelligence on Daesh, they’re also helping deter our enemies from attacking our bases in Iraq and Syria.”

Task Force Phoenix Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas said the families back home have been critical to mission success.

“Our Soldiers have overcome multiple challenges in moving from one place to another, adjusting to the battlefield, working around the clock,” Rosas said. “They’re doing great work, overcoming all those struggles that Soldiers have when being away from home and their families and adjusting to something new. They’re performing the mission at 120 percent every day and are doing great. First, I want to thank the families. I want to thank the families in their support for our Soldiers and our mission.”

With Task Force Phoenix crossing the halfway point, Gronewold and Rosas said Soldiers need to stay focused and beware of complacency, overconfidence and indiscipline.

“Stay focused on the mission and make yourself and your families proud by enhancing the reputation of your unit all the way to the end of the deployment,” Gronewold said. “Don’t get too focused on going home. We’ll be home when we get home.”

“Our Soldiers are doing great things,” Rosas said. “Whatever grade, rank or position they hold, each of our Soldiers is a big part of the mission. I’m proud of all that they’ve accomplished so far and all that they will accomplish going forward.”


Helicopter on ramp.

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from C Company, 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, lands in northern Iraq during a battlefield circulation. Command teams from Task Force Phoenix and Task Force Wolfpack were visiting with their Soldiers at remote locations.

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from C Company, 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, lands in northern Iraq during a battlefield circulation. Command teams from Task Force Phoenix and Task Force Wolfpack were visiting with their Soldiers at remote locations.

Soldier gets a handshake.

Task Force Phoenix Commander Col. Alan Gronewold congratulates a Soldier for earning the combat patch at Erbil Air Base, Iraq. Soldiers serving with Task Force Wolfpack earned the right to wear the 40th Infantry Division "Sunburst" patch on their right shoulder, signifying that they served their country in a combat zone. Task Force Phoenix Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas, Task Force Wolfpack Commander Lt. Col. James Snowden and Task Force Wolfpack Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Coveney participated in the ceremony, congratulating each Soldier on this rite of passage. The Soldiers were from D Company, E Company and G Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion); B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment (GSAB); C Company, 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment; and A Company and B Company, 640th Aviation Support Battalion.

Task Force Phoenix Commander Col. Alan Gronewold congratulates a Soldier for earning the combat patch at Erbil Air Base, Iraq. Soldiers serving with Task Force Wolfpack earned the right to wear the 40th Infantry Division "Sunburst" patch on their right shoulder, signifying that they served their country in a combat zone. Task Force Phoenix Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas, Task Force Wolfpack Commander Lt. Col. James Snowden and Task Force Wolfpack Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Coveney participated in the ceremony, congratulating each Soldier on this rite of passage. The Soldiers were from D Company, E Company and G Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion); B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment (GSAB); C Company, 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment; and A Company and B Company, 640th Aviation Support Battalion.

“Our Soldiers have overcome multiple challenges in moving from one place to another, adjusting to the battlefield, working around the clock.”
– Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas
Soldier with hose connected to helicopter.

A Task Force Phoenix Soldier refuels a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) in Syria.

A Task Force Phoenix Soldier refuels a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) in Syria.

Helicopter in flight.

A Task Force Phoenix CH-47 Chinook helicopter from B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), lifts off at a forward operating base in Syria.

A Task Force Phoenix CH-47 Chinook helicopter from B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), lifts off at a forward operating base in Syria.

Helicopter in flight.

A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter from Task Force Wolfpack, 1st Attack Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, flies over northern Iraq. Wolfpack's highly lethal Apaches serve as air weapons teams on 24-hour alert. They also provide overwatch during ground operations, convoy escort and reconnaissance in support of base defense.

A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter from Task Force Wolfpack, 1st Attack Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, flies over northern Iraq. Wolfpack's highly lethal Apaches serve as air weapons teams on 24-hour alert. They also provide overwatch during ground operations, convoy escort and reconnaissance in support of base defense.