By Pfc. Monica K. Smith
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq – Just as Apaches keep watch over ground troops, the battle captains of 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, watch over their Apaches, tracking and controlling all aircraft within their battalion.
"We manage the aviation assets and how they're employed in our battle space, mission sets, (area of operations), assist with S3, and we take any orders that come down from brigade," said Capt. Michael Milas, one of three battle captains in 1-3rd Avn. Regt., 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. "The biggest thing we do is ensure the aircraft are where they need to be."
The three battle captains – Milas, Nick Holten and Troy Gillett – along with fire support officer, Capt. Luke Slinker, work 12-hour shifts to provide 24-hour support to their Apache crews who fly missions in Multi-National Division – Center, and MND-Baghdad, in addition to VIP escort and supporting the Georgian Brigade in Forward Operating Base al-Kut.
When the battle captains arrive for work, the previous shift's captain briefs them on the day's mission sets and significant activities from the past 12 to 24 hours.
"We get a good feeling of what's going on and then we begin briefing crews on their mission sets," said Milas, from Hawthorn Woods, Ill. "It ... serves a specific purpose for the ground unit and as an aviation unit; we do it because that's what's requested."
Each shift briefs five or six crews. The rest of their day includes coordinating with ground units, updating information and preparing the next day's mission requests. Once requests are accepted, it is the battle captain's responsibility to work out a timeline while de-conflicting and prioritizing missions.
"We manage the flight," said Gillett, from Houston. "Everything is set the day prior so today we're getting ready to execute, or we wait for bad things to happen so we can react."
When troops are in contact, the Apaches ensure Soldiers on the ground have the support they need to make it through the fight.
"Whenever we're overhead, the enemy doesn't fire on our troops," Milas said.
Gillett said the enemy understands that when troops are in contact, aircraft are sent to their aid.
"They know there's going to be something coming overhead to blow them up," Gillett said. "They're not going to stay and fight."
When a mission is underway, the battle captains must stay alert and focused on the task at hand. Because of their responsibility, captains are specifically chosen to fill their positions.
"You have to ensure that your judgment and decision making abilities are more mature," Milas said. "There are a lot of moving parts and you have to make quick decisions without jeopardizing the flight crews and at the same time provide the ground troops the support they need."
The battle captains have three enlisted Soldiers working with them as well. These Soldiers man the radios and the command post of the future (CPOF), a multi-monitor set that allows for complex operations.
"We listen to the internal frequencies, give the current position of aircraft and provide other information the battle captain may need," said Spc. Charito Alonzo, from North Shore, Hawaii.
Alonzo says 90 percent of the information they brief to crews are provided by these enlisted Soldiers. They provide this information to the battle captains who prioritize and organize it for execution.
"They give us the puzzle piece and we decide where it goes," Gillett said.
Because of their hard work, battalion Soldiers often send messages of appreciation to the Apache crews who protectively fly over ground units.
"They'll say over the radio, 'tell the Viper guys "Thanks,"'" Alonzo said. "A couple even stopped by."
Gillett said he finds fulfillment in being able to support the ground troops.
"There's nothing more satisfying than helping out the ground units who are in need," he said.