By Maj. Enrique T. Vasquez
Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
TIKRIT, Iraq –Since the days of early aviation, Army pilots have played a key role in the outcome of ground battles and air missions. For pilots flying the AH-64 Apache Longbows of the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment in northern Iraq the legacy of influencing the fight continues through careful mission preparation and teamwork. These pilots known as the Gunfighters are part of the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division's efforts to sustain a constant presence over the skies of northern Iraq in support of Task Force Iron.
However, before the Gunfighters jump into their cockpits and head-out into the skies of Multi-National Division-North they must plan meticulously prior to each mission.
"First thing we do is get our mission data cards for the aircraft ready through our AMPS (aviation mission planning station computer) via our CP (command post) with all the aircraft specific data. We receive our tail number and we print out the knee-board cards and communications cards," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thaddeus Menold, air mission commander 1-1 ARB.
"From there we head over to the battalion tactical operations center and receive a mission team brief," said 1st Lt. Deborah Lindeman, Co. C, 1-1 ARB.
Personnel from the operations and intelligence staffs brief the pilots on the details of their mission to insure they know what to expect.
"Pilots are briefed on the five Ws- who, what, where, when and why- in respect to the operations portion of the brief. The crews receive instructions on what the ground commanders want along with any changes in procedures or radio frequencies," said 1st Lt. Peter Huang, a battle captain for 1-1 ARB.
"Furthermore, pilots receive any changes in battlespace and any updates as to what friendly forces are in the area of operations."
Just as the operations officer gives a detailed briefing so does the intelligence officer. Everything the enemy might be doing or trying to do is briefed to include the careful articulation of possible enemy courses of action.
"We find patterns and trends the enemy might be engaged in like IED, small arms fire and emplacements. We give the pilots an assessment so they know what to look for, how the enemy might act and what to expect," said Staff Sgt. Floyd Perry, 1-1 ARB intelligence analyst.
"The intel guys can give a 72-hour look of what has happened in the area of operations as well as a threat analysis to tell us where the bad guys are, based on previous activity," said Menold.
Once each Apache crew is briefed and understands their mission set, they receive a team brief by their air mission commander.
"After our intelligence and operations brief we go back to our CP and we do a team brief and we plan our route of ingress, our execution and our route of egress. We also discuss what our greatest threat might be, and what the greatest safety risk is," said Menold.
"In addition we address what to do if we loose communications or have an emergency. From there we head out to the aircraft for pre-flight checks and we also check the weather one more time before we go on the mission," said Menold.
Although the Apache is a two-seater helicopter, both pilots in an AH-64 Apache Longbow has a certain job to perform. While both are capable of flying the aircraft, the duties of the command pilot and the co-pilot gunner called the CPG; are distinctly different in a combat situation.
"The pilot, maneuvers the helicopter so that the CPG can fire," said Lindeman.
"The advantage to being the CPG is that you have laser and you can shoot missiles or the 30mm cannon."
The pilots must work together to accomplish in-flight tasks and duties.
"We just talk to each other and I let him (the pilot) know if I have something, where I am looking at left or right. From there the pilot can see the video I am looking at through my screen, he then places the aircraft to where I am looking," said Lindeman.
During a mission individual Apache crews work with a sister gunship and are part of a weapons attack team made up of two AH-64 Apache helicopters flying as a pair.
Mission success depends on the gunship crews working well with each other.
"I like crew coordination not just in the cockpit but in the team. I like to see crew coordination between aircrafts. If someone has a minor problem no matter how small I want to know about it," said Menold.
Each Apache helicopter crew has a distinct role during a mission set.
"The lead aircraft is the primary shooter, navigator and serves as the principal communicator with the ground force commander. The trail aircraft covers the lead aircraft should the lead aircraft take fire. The trail Apache also monitors the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) for air-to-air deconfliction," said Capt. Jason Lynn, 1-1 ARB plans officer.
Supporting the ground units is what each mission is about.
"Mission success is measured by supporting the ground units and helping them get back to their bases safely. So we do our best to help them in any way we can," said Menold.
"There is nothing better than catching someone emplacing IED. The ground units are always appreciative of us being there."
There are several types of missions Apache crews often fly. The missions vary between counter IED reconnaissance, to ground support.
Apache pilots say they can see the positive contributions they are making in defeating insurgents.
"The violence has scaled down quite a bit since we got here," said Menold.
"We used to catch a lot of insurgents emplacing IEDs. However, there are not as many emplacers as there used to be. We are definitely having an impact on IED activity," said Menold.