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    Rock Spring Air Assault – Aviation Task Force Integration with 173rd Paratroopers

    On the LZ

    Photo By Lt. Col. John Hall | A 12th CAB CH-47 Chinook Helicopter lifts off as paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne...... read more read more



    Story by Lt. Col. John Hall 

    173rd Airborne Brigade

    GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – In the early morning hours, a Soldier stands ready in an assembly area with intense eyes peering into the approaching helicopter. His assault pack is prepared for the coming mission as his squad leader gives him last minute instructions about his responsibilities when in the coming fight, the CH-47 Chinook lands on the hot landing zone (LZ). He breathes in the cold forest air, thinks about his training and reviews the “actions on the objective” in his mind. As he breathes out, the condensation of his breath forms a cloud that projects before him. He is ready. He confidently strides onto the helicopter for his first live fire exercise.

    At the LZ, Apache Attack Helicopters maneuver along the ridgeline just above the ground as they identify their targets. As if out of nowhere, they lift above the morning mist that is swirled as they rise from below the trees to pounce onto their targets. The U.S. Army attack helicopters from Task Force Viper begin to pound their targets with rockets and 30mm gunfire. As they move forward to follow up with their attack, the Chinook loaded with paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, “The Rock”, bounds over the tree line for an air assault onto the objective.

    As the Chinook approaches the ground, debris is kicked up in all directions. Dust, sticks and rocks are thrown into the nearby German forest. The wheels touch. The ramp drops. A platoon of Sky Soldiers exit the aircraft forming a wedge. They rush across the open area and immediately take up fighting positions when they reach the cover of the trees.

    There is a sudden burst of gunfire as one of the lead elements of the formation spots an enemy Soldier. As the paratroopers fire and maneuver, the leader sends up a report to his higher, as he simultaneously directs the fight. Rock paratroopers continue to move tactically toward the objective which is blocked by strands of wire. A squad takes up a support by fire position, covering smoke is thrown, as the purple and yellow smoke bellows out, Sappers move to the wire with an explosive breach made up from Composition C-4 plastic explosive. As paratroopers suppress the enemy, the breach charge is placed across the wire, the detonation cord is extended, and the warriors take cover. Throughout the forest the call echoes, “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” Suddenly there is a dynamic explosion as orange flames splash up and out from the breach, with fragments of wire and Earth blasting away from the opening that has been created in the defensive positions.

    There is a brief stillness and eerie silence before the paratroopers lay down a field of fire as their breaching element maneuvers through the opening, slowing just enough to clearly mark the breach for follow-on forces. They take up fighting positions on the next dominant terrain to identify enemy armor assets and fighting positions hidden in the thick forest. As anti-armor weapons target the enemy positions, smoke billows from the back blast as a rocket streaks through the towering pine forest. Paratroopers continue to identify and engage remaining forces until none remain. It is all over in a matter of a few hours from lift off to elimination of enemy forces and seizing key terrain.

    “The purpose of this training is for Rock paratroopers to fire and maneuver both from close combat attack aviation in support in the overhead and direct and indirect weapons systems. This is to build confidence in the paratrooper’s ability to defeat any threat on the battlefield, and to incorporate anti-tank weapons systems and machine guns,” stated Rock Commander, Lt. Col. Jim Keirsey.

    The live fire training is supported by 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, Attack Reconnaissance Battalion and 12th Combat Aviation Brigade whose CH-47 Chinooks provided the air assault into the objective and whose AH-64 Apache’s provide the attack from the air to defeat the notional enemy forces.

    “We have the Apaches flying directly over and off to the side of the paratroopers as they assault the objective. We have our 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion Sappers attached to conduct demolitions. I have never seen better integration with an aviation task force,” said Keirsey. “Lt. Col. John Morris and his TF Viper team joined us for every platoon back brief, conducted sling load sustainment training, mortar air assaults, and every iteration of platoon blank fire exercise and live fire support, both lift and close combat attack.”

    The platoon live fire exercises are conducted under day and night conditions with 1-3 ARB Air Assault infiltration with CH-47 and fires support from 81 mm and 120mm mortars as well as AH-64 attack helicopters.

    CSM Wayne Wahlenmeier added, “Our battalion is up here training squad/team live fires and then straight into platoon live fires. We are validating all of our platoons on their ability to fire and maneuver effectively in day and night, utilizing the aircraft to air assault our paratroopers in.” He went on to point out, “This is a very good way for us to assess the ability of the formations. It validates the training plan the commanders are putting together, to determine if training is achieving the goals we want to achieve. It allows us to see the gaps in any of the training plans so we are ready for the next fight.”

    “This is really the culminating event to bring the whole team together as we advance to the company live fire. We are certifying all of the platoons out here on range 118 at Grafenwoehr to accomplish our combat mission,” added Keirsey.

    This training included qualification on all individual and crew served weapon systems including the M4 rifle, M9 pistol, M500 shotgun, M249, M240 and M2 machine gun, M320 grenade launcher, M3 MAAWS Carl Gustav Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel System, AT4 Anti-Armor weapons, hand grenade, and M18A1 Claymore.

    “We conducted squad live fire exercises under day and night conditions with all six companies training at Grafenwoehr. It’s not just platoon live fire, every element is training core warrior tasks, said Keirsey. “We’ve got our forward support company Hound conducting sling load training with the aviators. We’ve got our mortars conducting hip shoot live fire air assault with the aviation elements. We’ve got our Destin company doing their live fires sharing the attack aviation to defeat the enemy at counter attack. All of our live fires are linked together in a common scenario.”

    The Operations Officer, Maj. Nathan Showman added, “This is a building block in our training progression. It helps us achieve objective-T standards that the Army has laid out and validated. This is a great opportunity for us to train in one, three-week density. First, we did squad live fires, now we are doing platoon live fires. This is an efficient way for us to achieve our training goals.”

    Rock Commander, Lt. Col. Keirsey concluded, “Every company completed squad live fires up here and they also completed an arduous 20-mile road march culminating in a Situational Training Exercise (STX) to test the Mission Essential Task List (METL) of the unit and build confidence in their ability to move over long distances and still be in a fighting form at the end.”



    Date Taken: 03.24.2018
    Date Posted: 03.24.2018 09:38
    Story ID: 270503
    Location: DE

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