News: 2-19th Iraqi army division, Task Force Wings conduct a large-scale partnered air assault
Story by Spc. Michael Alberts
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq — By 7:50 a.m. helicopters inserted the last of more than 300 Iraqi security forces and U.S. Soldiers into the morning's objective — four towns along a seam of territory spanning Iraq's northern provinces of Diyala and Salah ad-Din.
Five hours later, the combined air assault, Operation "Tomahawk Condor," was mission complete having confiscated six illegal weapons and detaining four suspected terrorists.
Approximately 100 Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 19th Iraqi Army Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division, and more than 200 Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, conducted the Iraqi-led air assault mission from Contingency Operating Location Grizzly, Diyala province, Iraq, Feb 17.
These ground units received aviation support from four CH-47D Chinook and six UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters with the Hawaii-based 25th Combat Aviation Brigade , Task Force Wings, and four AH-64D Apache helicopters with 2nd Squadron, 159th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, TF Wings.
With so many aircraft integrally involved, fuel and re-arming of ammunition was a critical aspect of the operation. Soldiers from the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, 12th CAB, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, TF Lobos, 2nd Battalion, 25th Avn. Regt., TF Diamond Head, operated the Forward Arming and Re-fueling Point at Joint Base Balad to fill these vital support services.
According to Maj. Joshua Higgins, operations officer, 2/25th Avn. Regt., TF Diamond Head, the operation sought to disrupt enemy capabilities and demonstrate to the local people the continued commitment of the ISF to protecting the area and deterring enemy activity.
Task Force Diamond Head led the aviation planning component, and supported mission execution with command and control as well as with pilots and aircrews for the UH-60L Black Hawks. Higgins spearheaded the planning process, including multiple air-mission coordination briefings and a combined arms rehearsal.
"This air assault operation was certainly [one of our most complex operations] since we've been in Iraq considering the integration of Chinook, Apache, Black Hawk, UAV and the [command and control] airframes," said Higgins.
"It was very successful. The individual pilots, air crews, and ground personnel, Iraqi and U.S., all executed flawlessly. It was Iraqi-led, and I was impressed with the professionalism and capability of our Iraqi counterparts. What we witnessed was Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers operating shoulder-to-shoulder [as a team] with a common goal, executing their mission with total proficiency," he continued.
Lt. Col. David Francis, commander, TF Diamond Head, elaborated on the success and significance of the operation.
"The operation was successful not only from the standpoint of the partnered ground training that was conducted between 2/19th, 5th Iraqi Army and the 1/23rd Infantry Regiment, [in preparation for the air assault, but also from an aviation perspective]," said Francis. "An air assault operation is a complex operation. To demonstrate how U.S. forces synchronize those assets and all [the other] enablers is a significant training event for the ISF."
"In aviation we often say that, 'planning is everything, [but no plan survives first contact]' because things can always change during the course of an operation," he continued. "[Our level of preparation and planning] for this particular operation [contributed greatly to its success], and the performance of the aviators from three different aviation units within the 25th CAB was not only phenomenal, but a great demonstration of the teamwork within the [TF Wings]."
Two of the 25th CAB aviators were Capt. Josh Powers, UH-60 pilot and commander, Company B, 2/25th Avn. Regt., TF Diamond Head, and Chief Warrant Officer Two James Ditto, CH-47 pilot and operations officer, Co. B, 3rd Battalion, 25th General Support Aviation Battalion, TF Hammerhead.
Powers was the operation's UH-60L Black Hawk serial commander, inserted a combined assault force, and also commanded the partnered aerial reaction force providing contingency aerial coverage. Ditto was the CH-47 flight lead pilot who coordinated the Chinook mission with the other participating elements, and infiltrated three iterations of troops onto objectives.
"Everything went very smoothly, probably more smoothly than expected given the [scale of this operation]," said Ditto. "You want troops on quickly and off quickly during an operation [for a variety of reasons]. We conducted cold and hot-load training before the mission, and I was impressed with how well the ISF performed."
Powers agreed with Ditto's thoughts.
"Whenever I fly, my concern is making sure [troops] understand their responsibilities, getting on and off the aircraft safely. We conduct helicopter-load training rehearsals to mitigate those risks, and the ISF executed everything very well. They were very motivated, competent and [extremely proficient. They led the way]."
Staff Sgt. Nathan Kildoo, senior crew chief UH-60 and battalion standardization instructor, 2/25th Avn. Regt., TF Diamond Head, is a nine-year combat veteran with three combat tours and has participated in countless air assault operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He teaches passengers how to get in and out of the aircraft, and ensures passengers remain in a tactical posture throughout missions.
"This was the largest air assault we've executed in terms of the number of aircraft and ground forces, and the ISF executed very well," said Kildoo. "This mission in particular was [rewarding] because anytime you do a [combat operation] with Iraqi security forces you really get the sense that we're helping the Iraqi people," he continued.
"Training the ISF is challenging because of the language barrier and their limited experience with helicopters, but I get to see firsthand that they truly are performing these missions well, and stepping-up to take care of their country."
This work, 2-19th Iraqi army division, Task Force Wings conduct a large-scale partnered air assault, by SGT Michael Alberts, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.