An often-deployed Army helicopter unit from the Washington National Guard expects to spend much of 2016 in the Middle East flying out of American bases in Kuwait.
The group from the 1st Battalion, 168th General Support Aviation Battalion has reached its final training grounds at Fort Hood, Texas, and is expected to deploy early this winter.
A year ago, the same soldiers participated in an intense Northwest firefighting season, dropping 2,000-gallon buckets of water from CH-47 Chinook helicopters on the Carlton Complex and Chiwaukum Complex fires.
This summer, the battalion mostly stayed off firefigthing duty because of its predeployment preparations. Washington called in help from aviation crews in other states to work on the fires.
The Washington National Guard has sent helicopter crews from the battalion to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan regularly since 2006, but usually in smaller groups.
This deployment is its largest-yet deployment for an aviation assignment, spokesman Capt. Joe Siemandel said.
The soldiers likely will be home about a year from now, he said.
The Army has kept at least one infantry brigade in Kuwait since the formal end of the Iraq War in 2011. Deployments there have continued since the Islamic State severely destablized neighboring Iraq in 2014.
The next group of 4,000 soldiers headed to Kuwait is expected to be the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas.