News: TF Warhawk goes high-altitude in Idaho
Story by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – As the 2014 drawdown of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan approaches, the next rotation of units train vigorously to maintain readiness to support overseas operations.
“Our primary mission here is to execute our combat tasks in an environment that allows us to operate as a multi-functional task force with our different elements and to bring our ground brethren with us in order to train those METL (mission essential task list) tasks and prepare our soldiers for future deployments,” said Lt. Col. Jason L. Miller, 2-158th AHB and TF Warhawk commander.
The 2-158th AHB houses all of the brigade’s UH-60M Black Hawks, however, the versatility of an aviation task force allows for multiple airframes to work together under one commander.
“They (airframes) are operating in multiship formations and are also doing mixed-aircraft operations where we have Apaches doing route security for us. As we drop off ground units and they move toward their objective, we depart and the Apaches remain on station to provide an aerial observation and attack platform,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 William G. French, 2-158th AHB aviation safety officer.
TF Warhawk migrated more than 300 Soldiers along with UH-60M Black Hawks, AH-64E Apaches, tactical ground vehicles and support equipment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to its neighboring state.
“Idaho was chosen because it offered … high-altitude training, combined-arms training, air assault training, FARP (forward arming and refueling point) training, etc… all wrapped into one in a centralized location that was supportable from JBLM,” Miller said.
The specific mission set that Miller, Command Sgt. Maj. Marty H. Book, 2-158th AHB command sergeant major, and their team put together was based off of guidance from aviation units in Afghanistan.
“Everything that we have done here is geared off of situational reports that we have received from the units forward,” Miller said. “We are in constant contact with them about what type of missions they are performing, how they are integrating their task force and about what battle rhythm they are running. What we did is we took that information and created a realistic scenario … to replicate what we will be doing when we go forward.”
In thin air
At their home station of JBLM, pilots and crews work in a very regulated mission set that starts out around 300 feet above sea level. The major environmental obstacles that flight teams must overcome in the Evergreen State does not correlate to what they will encounter during their deployments.
“There is a very controlled airspace at JBLM. You’re always under radar coverage, so it’s simple to get a hold of people for radios,” French said. “When we come out here (Idaho), it is more of a high desert at about 2,800 feet, and we’re flying out to high-altitude locations for HAMET (high-altitude mountainous environmental training) training, where we will be going up to 8,300 feet.”
Pilots and crew chiefs must practice identifying a new set of hazards not common to their normal flights.
“There are several landing zones at different levels and with the higher altitudes, there are more confined spaces because we’re lining up with the small ridgelines,” French continued. “We’re preparing pilots for that and for environmental factors such as dust and snow that they could encounter in the winter in Afghanistan.”
In a major support role to help prepare flight teams physically for their new missions, the 2-158th AHB medical team led by the unit physician, Capt. Jason MacDonnell, continuously trained crew members on the body’s reaction to high altitudes.
“Every time we go on a training mission, there’s always an objective and I try to tailor the medical support to dovetail. In this case, we’re out here to do high-altitude training … which brings a unique set of medical conditions that they might not face otherwise,” MacDonnell said. “High altitudes have low oxygen, and the low oxygen causes different responses to the body.”
The limited number of medics does not allow for them to join flights and recognize when symptoms are being displayed so crew members must handle situations themselves.
“Hypoxia is one of the main symptoms when you fly at higher altitudes. We have to be able to identify the signs if we are having negative effects,” French said.
Hypoxia is a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. It may affect the whole body or a region of the body.
CAV on board with CAB
The 7th Infantry Division at JBLM oversees units that maintain uniquely different mission sets with multiple capabilities. The 16th CAB partnered up with Troop Comanche, 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division to provide both units with a chance to take part in realistic missions.
“We didn’t only want to do call for fires. We said let’s get them down here because we don’t get to work a lot of our missions with an actual ground force,” Miller said. “We quickly built up habitual relations with them, we integrated them with our air assets and provide our pilots with a real ground force that we have to support.”
The elements of 2-2 SBCT are not normally mobile without the Stryker vehicles inherent to their mission.
“They haven’t had the experience of being moved around without their Strykers before so this is new to them. And it gives us that exposure of actually having people on board,” French said. “We have to train them to get on and off the aircraft and go through all the planning of getting them where they need to be at the right time.”
More than 60 soldiers from Troop Comanche got an opportunity to expand their knowledge and skill set. Over the course of the training, they learned aviation terminology, operational procedures and battle rhythms when interacting with air support.
“The training out here has been great for the soldiers. Just as 16th CAB gets to understand how we work on the ground, we get to understand how they can increase our fighting capabilities,” said 1st Lt. Jeremy Meek, Troop Comanche executive officer.