BABIL, Iraq – Soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment, 21st Cavalry Brigade, are now patrolling Contingency Operating Site Kalsu aiming to enhance its force protection.
Aviators of the 229th “Tigersharks,” are employing their AH-64D Apache helicopters to watch over a wide area around the base, hunting for insurgents who aim to attack Kalsu, and provide security for convoys moving in the area.
“Our mission out here is to provide an additional asset for ground forces to counter indirect-fire attacks,” said Capt. Zachary Yoklic, executive officer of Company B, and a native of Weirton, W.Va. “We will also provide convoy security around Kalsu.”
COS Kalsu has historically been a hotspot for insurgent attacks and the presence of combat aviation puts pressure on those who attempt to attack the base. While a soldier presence on the ground provides a similar deterrent, having the helicopters in the air can offer much faster and wider coverage.
“We will basically go out and look at historic areas of interest to make sure there is no threat present or prevent that threat,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nathan T. Ratliff, an AH-64D pilot, originally from Orlando, Fla.
Beside the obvious dangers involved with their mission there is a tremendous logistical requirement to keep the helicopters fit to fly each day. Because the unit is now separated from their main support, and with minimal qualified maintenance support on Kalsu, many hours are spent combing over the aircraft to ensure their readiness.
“We do what we can to maintain the aircraft since we are unable to conduct heavy maintenance here,” said Spc. Jameel Sanders, an Apache maintenance chief, and native of San Antonio. “We have to make sure that everything is in order before the pilots take off. If something goes wrong, they can’t just pull over on a cloud.”
The Tigershark’s mission supporting the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment is also unique in that many of its soldiers were former members of the 3rd ACR. Sanders and Yoklic both served in the 4th squadron of the 3rd ACR which was reorganized as the 229th last year.
Sanders said when he found out about the mission to come support the 3rd ACR, he jumped at the chance to come back and serve alongside his old unit.
With all of the equipment and personnel in place, the soldiers of Company B are in fluid motion, flying missions around the clock to increase the safety of those serving on Kalsu.
“The 3rd ACR has bent over backward to make sure that we have everything we need to successfully complete our missions every day,” said Yoklic. “If every time we’re up there the base does not get rocketed then that’s the best part of my day.”