GULFPORT, Miss. - The Mississippi Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 185th Aviation Regiment has traditionally been called on for state emergencies and federal deployments. Being ready means that their aircraft have to be continually maintained.
As tornadoes struck the northern part of the state on 28-29 April the 1st Battalion, 185th was conducting Annual Training along with the Mississippi Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force and allied nations at the Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Mississippi, when they were tasked to assist with relief efforts.
The Soldiers that maintain the helicopters, called “birds” in military jargon, had to simultaneously respond to the state of emergency and maintain operations to support the exercise. This created an opportunity for the aircraft mechanics to operate under conditions they might encounter overseas such as the pace of operations and changing missions.
The situation showed the new Soldiers that have never deployed what the tempo is like overseas, said Sgt. Michael B. Gange, an engine shop chief with Company D, 1st Battalion, 185th Aviation Regiment, who hails from Brandon, Mississippi.
“They are going to need aircraft for mission and we can’t drop missions,” said Gange. “We need to maintain them as they come in.”
“To come to an A.T. and have an experience like this is a real eye opener,” said Warrant Officer Jason D. Ferguson, a Maintenance Officer from Little Rock, Mississippi, with Company D, 1st Battalion, 185th Aviation Regiment. “This experience is invaluable for training the newer guys.”
“This is exactly what we do during a deployment. It’s a 12-hour a day, 7 days a week kind of job,” said Ferguson. “When they’re not flying that’s when we’re working.”
The Soldiers considered the multiple operations good training but the missions were real which helps to instill a sense of pride.
“It was really cool,” said Pfc. Daniel C. Stadalis, a mechanic from Brandon, Mississippi serving with Company D. “These birds we were keeping going went out and flew and did real missions.
Rescue missions. Brought people food and water. We don’t get to see all that. It was pretty cool that we were the ones keeping those flying.”
“Those birds they are seeing on the news are the ones that they are working on,” said Ferguson. “Who knows, they might have helped save a life. It maybe got water to someone who needed it. That’s what we do. Hands down. We work on the helicopter to make sure those guys flying can get home safe and do their job.”
The unit believes that training hard, conducting state missions that show their capabilities and having the right noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, in key positions will make them successful no matter what they are called to do.
“We got good NCOs here to keep us up to speed and teach us stuff that we don’t always do on drill weekends,” said Stadalis.
“There are crucial positions and we have great NCOs in those positions,” said Ferguson. “Good NCOs will always ensure that the Soldiers get the proper training and get things done properly and there is no doubt in my mind they can handle whatever is thrown at them.”