Soldiers fly high over Kosovo with SPIES training
July 21, 2014
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo (July 21, 2014) -- Suspended from a rope at 100 feet in the air, five Multinational Battle Group-East Soldiers outstretched their arms and gave a thumbs-up, signaling they are OK. With their adrenaline flowing, the Soldiers were flown in a "racetrack" flight pattern around the camp in a rare training opportunity none of them would soon forget.
Soldiers with 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, who comprise the battle group's Forward Command Post, learned the intricacies of the Special Patrol Insertion and Extraction System, or SPIES, during a hands-on training event at Camp Bondsteel, July 18. SPIES developed as a means to rapidly insert or extract a reconnaissance patrol from an area that does not permit a helicopter to land.
"Initially, when you get hooked in and the helicopter starts to rise up, the wind is blowing on you pretty hard. You feel the adrenaline and you're feeling pretty excited, but I was ready to go. I was ready to get up there," said Sgt. Ryan Owens, an infantryman with 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, and a first-time participant in the training.
Created during the Vietnam War era, the system allows Soldiers on patrol the opportunity to rapidly infiltrate further behind enemy lines while providing elements of surprise and stealth to reconnaissance elements. The squadron's Long Range Surveillance, known as LRS, Company commander said SPIES is only used in extreme circumstances in covert operations where speed is essential.
"It's basically a non-standard method of getting Soldiers out of high-risk areas in a way that any adversary really wouldn't expect," said Capt. Daniel Stephens, commander of C Company, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment. "It affords us the opportunity to send Soldiers farther behind enemy lines to assume greater risk in putting them in more dangerous areas and then pulling them out of areas."
For over 40 infantrymen and cavalry scouts in the training, the look of fear or anxiety was not readily visible. Well-trained in their role as the quick reaction force for any crowd and riot control events arising in eastern and northern Kosovo, the Soldiers were excited to participate in the unique instruction, Stephens said.
"We've been fulfilling our Kosovo requirements, which is very critical, but it was a good opportunity to get the Soldiers back into their core competencies conducting LRS operations," Stephens, a native of Brewster, N.Y., said. "I think with infantry Soldiers, they tend not to convey some of their anxieties, but I know there was definitely a lot of excitement in having the opportunity to do something that most Soldiers don't get to do."
Certified at the U.S. Army's Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, two of the company's SPIES masters emphasized safety throughout the exercise, ensuring conditions and equipment were flawless before anyone rode the rope. Staff Sgt. Anthony Ambriz, an infantryman in C Company, and one of the SPIES masters on the ground, said safety is paramount to any insertion or extraction exercise.
"The first thing is safety. There's so many different safety hazards we have to mitigate as a SPIES master," Ambriz, a native of Lincoln, Neb., said. "We have to make sure nothing bad happens of course."
Ambriz added stringent control measures are in place, including a SPIES master in the helicopter, who maintains eye contact at all times with the SPIES master on the ground before taking off, and during any flight operations. The trainer on the ground ensures Soldiers hooking up to the rope are secured and all equipment is precise. Staff Sgt. Luis Aponte, another SPIES master, said the safety process is multi-faceted.
"We make sure their safety line is secure, that they did all the proper knots, all the harnesses are put on to standard and ensure all the carabineers are locked to the rope. We also check the rope so it isn't tangled with the Soldier," said Aponte, a native of Willimantic, Connecticut. "On the way up the SPIES master on the ground to the SPIES master inside the aircraft is communicating."
Training for and possibly applying SPIES in a real-world situation, allowed Soldiers like Owens to gain familiarity with the system while giving them a tool to use as LRS Soldiers in the Army.
"It's really neat to know that we can call upon SPIES if need be, to infiltrate or extract," said Owens, a Tryon, N.C., native. "Especially being within a LRS unit, it's something really neat to have in your tool bag."