Army aviation working harder, smarter
January 8, 2009
By David Vergun
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 8, 2009) -- The days of sending pilots out of Fort Rucker's aviation flight school for a year of on-the-job-training are over, said the installation commander there.
"We're now sending many of them directly into theater. And, feedback so far from commanders is that they're doing pretty well," said Maj. Gen. James O. Barclay III, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker, Ala. He said the Army aviation community is experiencing a very high operating tempo.
"While the combat brigades are drawing down in Iraq, Army aviation is seeing a plus-up with shorter times away from the fight and less predictability in deployment cycles," Barclay said. "It's not an easy business right now and I don't see any changes in the near term."
The general said that with forces thinning in Iraq, demand on remaining troops increases, requiring them to be in more places. That puts an increased demand on aviation units. He said Army aviation is increasing its presence in Afghanistan as well.
While focus on the combat mission is clear, Barclay said the lines are blurred between training and operations commands involving the aviation community.
"We quit separating the components and commands," he said, indicating the units train, fight and talk to each other more than ever before. Organizations he was referring to include: Training and Doctrine Command, Forces Command, Army Materiel Command, Fort Rucker and Installation Management Command, as well as Guard, Reserve and active components.
"We're truly a combined force, tied at the hip. We have to be. It's about being more effective, not just more efficient," he said, citing the Army Enterprise best practices model as aviation's campaign plan.
Barclay said there's a continual and rapid movement of personnel and their equipment from training to deployment to reset, then looping back to training, with relevant and responsive feedback throughout the cycle. For example, he said, lessons learned in combat are immediately applied to training and to new aviation equipment design.
Although the aviation community is combat-oriented, planning and rollout of new manned and unmanned aircraft to meet current and future needs is still a high priority, with design for crew survivability ranking at the top, he noted.
There is also an emphasis of empowering leaders from the bottom up and giving them more responsibility.
"There's an effort of decentralization of leadership; a push-down of tasks and decision-making designed to enfranchise the small-unit leaders," he said.
Although it is a busy time, he said the aviation community is not broken. Barclay noted that although dwell times in and out of theater are not good-about a 1:1 ratio for the aviation brigades-the enlistment and reenlistment rate is "doing well, despite not only the time deployed, but also attractive job offers from the contracting community."
Barclay said that while improved technology is important, success still depends on good people. He said leaders "must keep the focus on our young men and women who voluntarily answer the call to duty and go in harm's way over and over again."