News: Joint service members train for air combat
Story by Senior Airman Susan Davis
BRANDYWINE, Md. - Nearly 100 Army and Air Force members from around the National Capital Region convened for another round of helicopter training at Davison Army Air Field, Fort Belvoir, Va., July 19.
“The purpose of these exercises is to prepare deployed service members for the noise, stress and sensory overload associated with working around this kind of aircraft so they can concentrate on their missions when they get there,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Kjall Gopaul, Joint and Air Staff director at the LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education. “Their first exposure to all of that shouldn’t be in Iraq or Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa.”
"More and more, the Air Force is taking on some of those roles in which we might take a squad, move them out by helicopter and drop them in a forward area," added Master Sgt. Eric Marsh, 11th Security Forces Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of training. "It is important for our troops to know how to deploy onto and off of these airframes before they are in a combat situation."
The training also afforded service members a chance to learn the language of the operators, take direction from the flight engineer and work with members of their sister services.
"This is a great way to practice joint training," said Marsh. "It reinforces the fact that we are one team in a deployed environment. Understanding how each service operates and communicates allows us to pull together to meet our commander's intent."
As the first part of the training day got underway, participants were led to a runway where two static UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters sat, belonging to the 12th Aviation Battalion at Davison Army Air Field.
The group of soldiers and airmen, after being briefed on how to safely on-load and off-load the aircraft, were divided up into “chalks,” or groups, of eight passengers.
Once aboard the aircraft, trainees were instructed on the proper way to buckle a seat belt, hold a weapon (muzzle down), and give the “thumbs-up” once they and any items they were carrying were properly secured.
Gopaul offered an easy way for training participants to remember the proper procedures for on-loading the aircraft by repeating, “Hip, hip, shoulder, shoulder, thumbs-up!”
Participants would then beat their chests to mimic the sound of the turning rotors. As the chalks prepared to “land,” instructors would call out, “One minute! Thirty seconds!” which participants were expected to yell back.
Once they had “landed,” chalks would file out of the aircraft on either side, take two steps and come to the prone firing position, weapons in hand, as the aircraft “left.”
Following the first training exercise was training on how to properly on-load and off-load casualties using a litter.
“Being in the medical field, you never get to experience anything like this until you are thrust into a real life situation where you’re expected to perform,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Pearson, 579th Dental Squadron on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. “I totally enjoyed it, and it became a lot easier with practice. It would be like riding a bike now.”
The day continued on after a short break with a flying mission on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, courtesy of the Maryland Army National Guard’s B Company, 3-126th General Support Aviation Battalion from Weide Army Air Field, Aberdeen Proving Ground, a heavy-lift helicopter unit headquartered in Edgewood, Md.
The nearly-100 training participants were divided into three chalks, and carried from Davison Army Air Field to Aberdeen Proving Ground.
“The soldiers of this unit did an outstanding job with the flawless cross-country air assault of 99 joint service members,” said Gopaul, who served as the pathfinder for the operation. “On-time every time, and operating like clockwork with the ground forces at the pick-up zone and landing zone more than 15 miles away.”
When asked about the biggest challenge in carrying out these types of missions, Gopaul immediately named off planning and coordination.
“Ongoing updates are the key to successfully completing these missions,” he said. “Even without me here, the plan should still execute and it should still be a generally very smooth day.”
Tuesday’s mission was Gopaul’s final one before his permanent change of station assignment to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. He plans to continue conducting training missions like these there, he said.
“When your troops become comfortable working around this type of aircraft and can perform their primary mission, that’s when you know you’ve accomplished your training objective,” he said.