Air/ground integration starts at top with Grey Wolf, Warrior
July 8, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas - Ever since their historic introduction to battle during the Vietnam War, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), now 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, has coordinated with their brothers on the ground to ensure victory.
Nothing has changed, especially in the eyes of Cleveland, native Col. Douglas Gabram, commander of the 1st ACB "Warriors."
That coordination between ground forces and aviation is now called air/ground integration.
"(Air/ground integration) all starts with two things: mutual trust and relationship with the ground forces. If you don't have mutual trust and relationships, then you don't have effective air/ground integration," said Gabram.
That's why he has started an AGI training program where ground commanders get to meet face-to-face and also experience what it's like to fly in an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter - the helicopter that provides over-watch and direct support for the ground forces.
The first ground unit to take part in the program was the 3rd "Grey Wolf" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div., and their motivated commander, Col. Gary Volesky, who hails from Spokane, Wash.
"The intent was to give us a ... shared perspective so as we start to coordinate air to ground integration in our units we each have an appreciation for what the capabilities are of the unit that we're talking to and what the limitations are," said Volesky.
In this AGI scenario, Gabram got to take a ride in Grey Wolf's M2A3 Bradley, a tracked, armored vehicle with a 25 mm chain gun, a TOW missile system and a 7.62 mm machine gun.
Volesky settled into the front seat of one of the Warrior's Apache helicopters, an aerial weapons platform capable of firing laser-guided Hellfire missiles, 2.75 rockets and a 30 mm chain gun.
Because both weapons platforms are highly advanced systems, the two commanders didn't just jump in and roll (or fly) out. They first headed to each other's simulators to get a better understanding on how the systems work.
First, Volesky sat down in a Longbow Crew Trainer - the Apache simulator - to get familiar with the different switches and controls, said Gabram.
There to help the Grey Wolf commander wade through all the knobs and dials was the Warrior's most seasoned pilot, Copperas Cove, Texas, native Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael Reese, 1st ACB's standardization instructor pilot.
Because helicopter pilots can't just pull over to the side of the road when something goes wrong, it's important that anyone who enters the cockpit of an Apache knows some of the controls and procedures, said Reese.
Still, this training doesn't make up for the year of flight school that pilots go through, but keeping the experience as safe as possible is definitely a priority, said Reese with a smile.
After flying around in the virtual world, it was time to turn the tables. Gabram headed off to the Bradley simulator to squeeze in some drive time - and squeeze is putting it nicely.
The first thing Gabram noticed about the Bradley simulator was that it was quite a tight fit in the turret where the commander and gunner sat. There was practically no room for maneuvering, he said.
Gabram got to train with Volesky's own crew, a war-seasoned group with years of experience.
Once Gabram got used to his surroundings and some of the controls, the crew let him send some digital rounds down range in the simulator.
After the first burst of 10 rounds, Gabram knew something was askew.
Here is where one of the differences between the Apache and Bradley came into play, said Gabram.
The 30 mm chain gun on the Apache is highly accurate and fires a minimum ten-round burst. The gunner will hold down the trigger until the weapon stops on its own, said Gabram.
Conversely, the 25 mm chain gun on the Bradley fires only as many times as the trigger is pulled.
The crew found the over-kill of ten rounds was a bit humorous, said Gabram.
But that is why the two commanders do this, to figure out the myriad of differences between their two fighting machines, said Volesky.
The next day it was time for the real deal. Gabram and Reese flew into a Bradley gunnery range where Gabram exited the front seat so that Volesky could jump in.
Gabram jumped out of the spacious, air conditioned cockpit of the Apache and into the accommodations of the Bradley turret.
While Volesky flew off leaving everyone on the ground in the dust, Gabram sat in the turret in full body armor.
He quickly got an appreciation for the men who ride these into combat, he said.
Gabram was also impressed with the Bradley's weapons systems and sighting system, he said.
"Their FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) is very good and better than ours," said Gabram. "The accuracy of their (25 mm chain gun) is very good as well."
Meanwhile, hundreds of feet above the heat, Volesky was experiencing the bird's eye-view.
Reese took him through what pilots go through when they respond to troops being attacked.
They are dealing with three different radios, multiple weapons systems, flight controls, and not to mention enemy fire and urban terrain. This is on a cloudless day with no weather issues, said Reese.
Volesky was amazed at how complicated the Apache was. He also praised the pilots' abilities.
"It really was a very eye-opening experience for me. And it's (not) something you see from the ground, you don't understand how complex it is and what challenges those aviators go through," said Volesky.
The main difference between the Bradley and the Apache is what each Soldier is can see from their vantage point, said Gabram.
Gabram could see that the Bradley's point-of-view was very narrow in comparison to the Apache. This brought up the issue of guiding an Apache into a target while describing it from the ground - a difficult task, but one overcome by air/ground integration training, he said.
Volesky couldn't agree more.
The most educational piece, besides all of the technology that the Apache brings, is how complex it is to guide an aircraft in from the ground perspective so that the pilot will understand, said Volesky.
But that is only part of the AGI picture, said Gabram.
The most important part is bond that is made between the units before they even step foot into combat, he said.
"There's an art and science to it. The art is the trust and relationship. The science is the tactics, techniques and procedures, and the formats used to talk to each other on the radio," said Gabram.
Gabram believes the art is what made the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam so successful.
He uses the close relationship that was nurtured between Maj. Bruce Crandall and Lt. Col. Hal Moore before they even went to war, as depicted in the book "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young," as an example.
Volesky believes "the most important part of this is the relationship building that we're doing right now," he said.
He emphasizes the importance of the air/ground integration and the outcome of not training.
"One of the most important things we'll do is rely on aviation to come support something we're doing on the ground," said Volesky. "So if we have not mastered air/ground integrations and really worked it hard with that unit that supports us - we'll have a much tougher time."
And a tough time is not what Gabram wants his brothers on the ground to go through - especially as a result of his unit.
"Our only mission in Army Aviation is to support the troopers on the ground," said Gabram
Although the first, Volesky won't be the last ground commander to take flight in the front seat of an Apache. Nor will he be the only Soldier to sit in the simulator, said Gabram.
Other ground brigade commanders will get to fly in the Apache and numerous other commanders down to the platoon level will get to at least take a ride in the simulator. This is to ensure a wide spread understanding of what the pilots in the air see, he said.
They're also fostering relationships between sister units all the way down to the company and platoon level across all types of aircraft and ground forces to create a bond that will hold in combat, said Gabram.
Gabram stressed that although the Apache is a significant player in combat, the UH-60 Black Hawk and the CH-47F Chinook also play a huge part in AGI.
Black Hawks provide air assault and medical evacuation capabilities while Chinooks provide supply and troop transportation and even conduct air assaults at times, said Gabram.
When Volesky and Gabram walked away from the day of flying and riding, they both did so with a smile.
"Being able to get up into one of the most advanced helicopters that we have to offer and really getting a first-hand appreciation for the capabilities of the aircraft, but also how great the pilots are that fly those aircraft," said Volesky.
The experiences were educational and exciting, but the relationships made run deeper than before the AGI event, and that is priceless, said Gabram.
He felt a quote from "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young," summarized the bond between the aviators and the troopers on the ground.
"I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come - if alive," William Tecumseh Sherman, in a letter to Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War.