JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – “One minute,” echoed throughout the cabin of the Black Hawk, signaling to the soldiers they will soon be exiting the helicopter and will go back to humping their gear by foot. The sergeant reiterates to his team, “Once we touch down it’s three steps out the door and drop.”
Companies from 2nd Battalion, 158th Assault Helicopter Battalion partnered with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment for an air insertion exercise here, May 22. Approximately 130 soldiers from the 2-23 Infantry boarded UH-60 Black Hawks and were dropped off about one mile from their target before moving on to assault the objective and capture a weapons cache during the training exercise.
The training exercise started about 10 miles from the end objective and shortly after boarding the aircraft the soldiers where once again on the ground and moving out.
Air insertion training is an important part of the Mission Essential Task List for the ground troops, said Maj. Ryan Boyle, executive officer, B Company, 2-158 AHB.
As the war continues in Afghanistan, becoming familiar with the capabilities that a helicopter brings to the battlefield is paramount, said Boyle.
“This mission was very similar to a mission that they [ground troops] might see downrange,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3, Matt Letterman, flight lead, B Company, 2-158 AHB. “We are using air assets so much in Afghanistan because of the terrain difficulties and the threat of roadside bombs.”
A mission involving aircraft doesn’t just happen out of the blue, it takes planning and preparation from both the ground troop commanders and those in charge of the air assets.
The day’s mission started with all the normal preflight checks and ensuring the operating capabilities of the aircraft, said Sgt. David Gentleman, crew chief, B Company, 2-158.
“We did several weather calls, as the flight ceiling dropped in the area, that changed the mission time by about 30 minutes but it went off very smoothly,” said Gentleman.
For the flight coordinator and the commanders of the ground troops several issues become a factor when planning an air insertion mission.
Weather in Washington State is always an obstacle along with dropping into multiple landing zones and using multiple aircraft, said Letterman.
“A major obstacle to overcome is coordination between the aviation asset and the ground asset,” said Letterman. “A constant line of communication is a must to handle any changes that might arise and making sure they have a plan to get out, to accomplish the mission with or without us.”
In the near future ground units may have the opportunity to train more and more with the aviation assets assigned JBLM as the 2-158 AHB continues to grow in size.
“For a long time here at JBLM there was only the one UH-60 flight company” said Boyle. “This mission is a major milestone for the battalion in the sense that this was a battalion level mission conducted with both A Company and B Company We look forward to standing up C Company sometime this summer.”
“We will be able to do these larger missions that have probably been relatively uncommon here at JBLM for a number of years,” Boyle said.
After being flown in for the initial part of their mission the overall objective for both the 2-158 AHB and A Company, 2-23 Inf. Regiment, had been accomplished. The infantry received training on an air insertion exercise and the flight crews continued to perfect their skills of delivering the troops to the right spot at the right time.
As one soldier put it, “I would rather fly than walk any day.”