By Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell
Camp Abberbury Public Affairs
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. – Train as you would fight. That's exactly what the pathfinder company assigned to 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, did July 18 as they climbed onboard two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, flew more than 200 miles, refueled the aircraft at a hasty forward aerial refueling point, and flew the final minutes to their objective - a remote central Indiana training facility.
Training for an upcoming scheduled rotation to Afghanistan, the mission for the small pathfinder team was to locate and evacuate an "isolated individual" in an unknown location.
With little intelligence, unknown terrain, and traveling long distances, Lt. Col. Tommy Stauss, 5-101 commander, said using a remote training area such as the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center allows his Soldiers and air crews to realistically prepare for combat missions overseas.
"My Soldiers have an added advantage using the established training facilities at Fort Campbell," he said about training at their home base in Kentucky. "They know every building and tree line to help them accomplish their mission. Here, we don't know the terrain very well and definitely don't have the blueprints of these large complex buildings."
Stauss and his command sergeant major made final checks to ensure that everything was in place before the green light was given to kick off the rescue training exercise.
With several AH-64 Apache helicopters hovering nearby, local power plant workers knew something was coming, but didn't know the intensity of the training for Soldiers assigned to Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
"My company will definitely receive some realistic training today," he said looking up at the attack helicopters. "We'll see how the air crews and teams work together to accomplish the mission in unfamiliar territory."
With opposition forces in place and blended in with their surroundings, the attack pilots kept a close eye out for trouble below and relayed final intelligence reports to the inbound UH-60 helicopters.
"We are here to integrate with local workers to provide the most realistic training for the platoon training today," said Adam Graves, F Company, 5-101, opposition force NCOIC, about using local facility workers as additional role players for the exercise. "We want them to get into these buildings and know where to search and locate the bad guys and weapon caches."
Graves and his small team carried various traditional enemy weapons and stored numerous weapons caches around the large training complex to give the teams a better training opportunity for today's mission.
"Hopefully, they will have a heightened awareness of their surroundings and how to interact with the locals," said Graves.
In less than a minute, two UH-60s quickly appeared over the tree line and delivered more than a dozen pathfinders only several hundred meters away from the objective and from harms way of awaiting opposition forces.
With the loud, distinct sounds of rotors cutting the humid air gone, the highly-trained Soldiers began their mission to locate the isolated individual. Masked by the hilly terrain, the team quickly moved into the safety of the tree line and proceded to their objective – two large buildings suspected of housing their isolated personnel.
"We are here to see how the teams react to situations they could easily encounter in a combat zone," said Stauss. "I want them to be prepared and ready to deliver the fight to the enemy. In order to do that, we have to train right and train hard."
The team quickly approached an old warehouse undetected and methodically cleared each room and floor looking for suspicious activity or their person of interest. With only a few workers in the building and nothing out of the ordinary, the team prepared to move across a gravel road to the nearby power plant.
"This location is definitely an excellent area to provide my pathfinder company and air crews the skills necessary to be successful in Afghanistan," said Stauss.
With opposition forces providing harassing scenarios for the active-duty teams, pathfinder leaders quickly assessed the situation, developed an alternative plan and quickly surrounded the power plant and moved into the dark, awkward floor plans of old coal-burning power plant.
"Our primary mission is to assist our commander to build confidence in the Soldier's training as individuals and as a team," Graves said about providing convincing scenarios for training. "We really want them to believe they are in the most realistic mission as possible without someone getting injured."
The teams quickly located the individual in the damp basement. After collecting some enemy weapons and intelligence, the teams accounted for all Soldiers and moved back to the extraction location without enemy contact.
As the UH-60s picked up the team, the battalion commander said, "That's how it's done – in and out of there. Now let's get ready for tomorrow's training mission."