FAIRBANKS — The Army marked the deployment of two components of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade in a ceremony that was unusual because the two units are going to different places.
Team Denali, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter team with about 200 members from Fort Wainwright, is on its way to Afghanistan for an eight-month deployment.
Also deploying is the leadership of the entire brigade, which is going to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state as part of a reorganization of the brigade that will split the unit between Washington and Alaska.
The traditional symbolism for an Army deployment is the placement of a case over the flag of the unit that is deploying. The case is removed when the unit gets to its destination. At a ceremony Monday, the case was placed over the wing and dagger flag representing the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, but only about 120 soldiers and 10 helicopters from the brigade will be going to Washington. Under the reorganization, the Fairbanks part of the brigade will keep about the 1,200 soldiers. The Washington part of the unit will swell to about 2,000 soldiers with the addition of personnel brought in from other units.
The brigade will be the only Combat Aviation Brigade in the Army that is split between two posts.
The brigade already has two of its smaller units deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. After the reorganization, it could be ready to deploy as a larger unit within 18 months.
During his comments, brigade commander Col. Robert Werthman said he had mixed feelings about leaving Fairbanks.
“We will never forget our roots,” he said. “We were forged on the banks of the Chena River.”
He also praised Team Denali, which has 600-hours of flight time and has practiced high-altitude flying and air assault in preparation for the deployment, he said. The pilots also were trained with night vision gear, which was not easy to do in the land of the midnight sun, he said.
Team Denali’s future location in Afghanistan is being kept secret for security reasons.