56th SBCT, 1st ACB Commanders swap roles to gain new perspective
July 15, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - For an aviation unit, the concept of performing missions on the ground is perhaps an alien thought, just as being in the air is to the Stryker teams who are helping to keep the Iraqi streets safe.
When the roles are reversed however, and both sides are able to see operations from each other's point of view, the importance of air-ground integration is magnified - revealing how crucial both are to complete these missions.
The commanders of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade and 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team were able to experience this reversal, as both undertook joint training working together to obtain a new perspective on AGI and better understand how it works.
Col. Marc Ferraro, from Cherry Hill, N.J., commander, Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th SBCT, Multi-National Division - Baghdad, said the working relationship between the 1st ACB and the 56th SBCT began last November at Fort Polk, La., when the two trained together in preparation for their upcoming deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom at the Joint Readiness Training Center.
"Things started at Polk with our mission rehearsal exercise when the 4-227th (4th Battalion, 1st ACB) stepped up and came to support our aviation element that we needed for the rotation," Ferraro said.
Prior to the assistance of the 1st ACB's 4th Battalion, the opportunities to train for AGI had been slim for the 56th SBCT, Ferraro said.
"We didn't have the resources to do it and because of our transformation from a mechanized brigade to a Stryker brigade, time just wasn't available," Ferraro said. "This was the first time we had the opportunity to work with air, so we focused on AGI."
The 4th Bn., 1st ACB, helped train the 56th SBCT from the brigade to platoon levels in order to prepare them for training exercises involving AGI, Ferraro said.
"We started doing actual missions together with them at JRTC and since we've been here we have been able to take it to the next level with the 1st Air Cav," Ferraro said.
Ferraro stressed the importance of AGI and said it isn't as complicated as it appears to be.
"It's seamless in my opinion," Ferraro said of the process. "During the AGI mission planning they will exchange call signs and frequencies to operate on. During an air assault mission the air will be in constant communication with the ground commander and they will execute the mission."
During the JRTC training Ferraro had an opportunity to fly in an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter which he jokingly stated wasn't his preferred method of traveling.
"I love to fly, but I like being on the ground," Ferraro laughed. "It's very different. From the sky you get to see the vastness of it compared to being on the ground, which is almost tunnel vision."
The perspective from above was an eye opener for Ferraro, who said it helped him understand how to plan from both sides.
"As you're looking out trying to gauge distances and so forth it gives you a new perspective," Ferraro said. "But it's good to see thing from both sides so when you start doing your planning you have those perspectives to draw on. Going up in the air was well worth it."
As a measure of goodwill between Ferraro and the 1st ACB, Col. Douglas Gabram, from Cleveland, Ohio, commander, 1st ACB, 1st Cavalry Division, conducted a Stryker patrol to get a look at proceedings from the ground, in a reversal of Ferraro's experience flying in an Apache.
"We thought it was important that we go out and get the ground experience in our operating environment," Gabram said. "We wanted to take a look at the terrain and see what they see on the ground that will better help us implement our air assets to cover them."
Gabram said he and members of his command group undertook the Stryker patrol and were exposed to a vastly new viewpoint of AGI.
"One very important difference is you have very minimal time to react," Gabram said. "My function was to be an air rear gunner. So my responsibility was up in the hatch covering a briefed sector in conjunction with the other rear air gunner and the gunner up front."
Gabram was also able to observe the Apaches from below and interact with them in unfamiliar circumstances.
"We had Apache coverage as do most of their (56th SBCT) convoys and it gave me a perspective on how they operate from the ground," Gabram said.
Both Gabram and Lt. Col. Charles Dalcourt, commander, 1st Bn. 1st ACB, talked to the pilots over the radio, which was quite a different experience for the Apache pilots - hearing their commanders' voices from the ground.
When giving spot reports to a Stryker there is a lot more to consider on the ground, Gabram said, with a limited viewing distance opposed to an Apache.
"It has to be taken in to consideration, especially when they dismount," Gabram said of the reports. "Once they dismount, the report from the air has to be accurate and be from the perspective of what they're seeing."
"We're not done yet and we will try to go in the Stryker's again and get more of the younger leaders out there to gain some experience," he said.
Gabram said the relationship with Ferraro and the 56th SBCT is based on trust and is working out well for both so far.
"The 56th SBCT, call-sign 'Independence,' is an extremely capable and professional organization and we are proud to serve with them," Gabram said.
"The air-ground integration is about performance on the battlefield, but behind that you have to know each other," Gabram said. "You have to have trust and he (Ferraro) knows that we're coming when they need us."