By Lora Chance - email
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The last of the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division returned to Hunter Army Airfield Tuesday, marking the end of an extraordinarily successful and historic deployment.
More than 3,000 soldiers of the 3rd CAB deployed to Afghanistan in October 2009 and all returned home.
"We flew over 160,000 flight hours in combat in a very dangerous place," said 3rd CAB commander, Col. Don Galli. "And we were safe in doing it."
Col. Galli said they had dozens of aircraft "shot up" but none went down and no crew members were hit.
"Collectively we all brought ourselves home," he said. "I attribute that to the great leadership of the brigade but most importantly, the skill of air crews. It was very much a team effort."
The brigade stayed focused on supporting troops on the ground and protecting the people of Afghanistan.
"We were responsible for over 72 percent of the enemy casualties," said Col. Galli. "We were very proud of the fact that the enemy knew who we were and they feared us."
To find and defeat the enemy, the 3rd CAB flew their Kiowa Warrior Helicopter higher than any other aviation brigade.
"Before we went to Afghanistan, the Kiowa Warrior was only allowed to fly 6,000 ft in Afghanistan. We flew it much higher than that, sometimes to 10,000 or 15,000 ft and that gave us a tremendous capability on the battlefield," Col. Galli told WTOC. "The enemy would say, the little birds are here, how did they get this high?"
In addition to combat operations, soldiers of the 3rd CAB provided humanitarian relief to the people of Afghanistan. The brigade also carried out unprecedented humanitarian missions in flood ravaged Pakistan.
"We were the first unit to respond to the disaster there, the worst floods they have had in over 80 years, nearly 3.5 million people displaced," said Col. Galli. "We were able to get there very quickly and provide much needed humanitarian relief."
The 3rd CAB accomplished more than any other aviation brigade in their one year deployment.
"We are truly blessed and it great to be back home," said Col. Galli. "There is no better place to serve in the army than right here in Savannah. I am so taken back by all the support that we received over there from the community. It means a lot to all of us that we get that support from the Savannah community."
The 3rd CAB was the first 3rd ID Combat brigade to enter the fight in Afghanistan.