JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD (AP) — The Defense Department says a helicopter unit from Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be going to Afghanistan for nine months next year as part of a rotation of forces.

The 16th Combat Aviation Brigade has about 1,700 soldiers who fly Apache and Blackhawk helicopters.

The News Tribune reports the deployment will be the first since the unit set up its headquarters at JBLM in August 2011.

Not all of the soldiers are based at Lewis-McChord. The aviation brigade has some Alaska-based elements. Another part of the brigade, the Kiowa-flying 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment, deployed to South Korea in September for a nine-month assignment.

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Even though the United States is drawing down forces in Air Force, the Lewis-McChord copters are needed for operations in the mountainous country.