SHINDAND AIR BASE, Afghanistan - National Guard units are bringing a whole new level of experience to Task Force Nightmare following the task force’s transfer of authority, Sept. 1, 2013, with Task Force Apocalypse, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
“The amount of experience within these two companies is incredible,” says Lt. Col Fred Dufault, the task force commander. “The soldiers and leaders are great at anticipating needs of the task force.”
Task Force Nightmare includes an AH-64 Apache company – Company C, 1st Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, with the Missouri National Guard, and a medical evacuation company – Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th General Support Aviation, spread between Washington, California, and Nevada National Guard.
As Task Force Nightmare took over, much of the maintenance and mission continuity expertise fell to their shoulders.
These soldiers have probably seen it all before, and have the experience and wisdom to make the right choices, said Dufault.
“Neither company is one to keep its knowledge or experience to themselves, either,” Dufault said. “Each company brings its unique strengths to the Nightmare family freely.”
Many of the soldiers in 135th Aviation Regiment are full time civilian employees of the Missouri National Guard, doing the same job here as they would back home.
“Most of my soldiers are depot-level maintenance technicians who fix these helicopters full time back home,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Carter, an Apache maintenance platoon sergeant with Company C, 1st Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment. “Others have prior experience in different airframes and maintenance jobs.”
The medics in Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, are much the same, with most working full time in either emergency medical services or in the medical field back in their home states.
“Out of the 25 medics in my company, 19 are either paramedics or registered nurses who work in the medical field full time back home,” commented 1st Sgt. Joseph W. Loader, himself a combat medic and a certified paramedic. “I even have a trained physician’s assistant filling in as medic.”
The 168th Aviation Regiment soldiers are “old hands” at the combat aviation brigade’s back wall medic program as well.
The program places an additional medic inside the medevac helicopter to help care for patients, which is “a huge benefit,” said loader and Staff Sgt. Andrew Neal, the company standardization medic.
“Back home, if you call 911 for a homeless drunk, you get four paramedics and a fire truck,” Neal said. “If you don’t treat a patient the right way on the battlefield, death might come later instead of sooner, or a patient’s quality of life after recovery might be worse.”
Two medics are better at evaluating a patient’s condition and providing the proper treatment on the way to the surgeons, Neal added, talking about the additional medical support the guardsman.
For 135th Aviation Regiment maintainers, it’s about showing TF Nightmare maintainers the tricks learned through long experience and practice.
“Back home, we maximize our flying hours on the Apaches by replacing the cheap parts more often to make the expensive parts last longer,” said 1st Sgt. Thomas Hintenach. “We’re used to doing more with less, and we know that we can do a maintenance engineering call, which is outside depot-level maintenance, for a part to repair it instead of replacing it.”
“Our soldiers bring that knowledge and continuity forward. It’s helped us and the task force fly an average of 550 Apache hours per month and maintain the Blackhawks to a high readiness in support of Regional Command (West) ground forces,” Hintenach continued.
“We put a lot of love into feel wedded to the aircraft, and as soon as an Apache lands, my soldiers are out checking it for faults and talking with the pilots about the flight,” Carter said. “Lt. Col. Dufault and TF Nightmare have made us feel at home and we are happy to share our knowledge in return.”
Despite the success of Afghan National Security Forces, aviation remains a key enabler to the RC (W) mission. The rapid availability of replacement parts for aviation assets is a challenge due to the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan.
While ANSF does most of their own casualty evacuation, aerial medical evacuation remains one of the most sought after assets by ISAF and Afghan forces alike due to the proven critical nature of treating injuries quickly by trained medical professionals.
Dufault believes in these “quiet professionals” bringing their civilian experience to the fight, and respects and trusts them implicitly.
“We are turning a nine day or less, problem free phase maintenance on the Apache, which is unheard of, and I truly believe the medevac company is the most experienced out there and is at the top their game,” Dufault said.
These soldiers bring maturity and their own validation to Task Force Nightmare, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, and the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, Dufault added.