<b>CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq </b>- A cool wind breezes past the face of a U.S. Army Soldier as he gestures his hand forward, letting the other team members know it's time to press forward, as the squad moves silently through the night. The team leader's heart begins to race as the Soldiers pass alleyways and homes. The sound of men speaking a foreign dialect seems to surround them.

Suddenly, a crackle on the tactical radio breaks the night's silence, as a voice on the other end says, "Ground element, eyes are on the target, proceeding two clicks in your direction."

Those heartbeats are suddenly replaced by the roaring of two AH-64 Apaches overhead, easing the Soldiers nerves, knowing there are friendly eyes in the sky.

The eyes in the sky that provide constant intelligence reports and cover for the 2nd "Spartan" Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers are Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, from Illesheim Army Airfield, Germany.

"The coordination and joint efforts of the 2nd HBCT, 3rd ID and the 159th Aviation Regiment are key for mission success in the area of operations for both units," said Capt. Andrew Upshaw, 159th Avn. Regt. "With the 2nd HBCT having the boots on the ground, we supply the eyes in the air, which provides ground troops intelligence on enemy movements during combat operations."

Since the 159th Avn. Regt. joined the Spartan Brigade, they have logged more flight time in support of combat operations than any aviation regiment currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan over the past month.

"It's been pretty busy around here since moving up to Mosul, Iraq, from Balad Air Base," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Wilusz, 159th Avn. Regt. "Being located right next to the ground units we support, we have been able to quickly respond and provide immediate information for those troops."

Captain Upshaw said since arriving on COS Marez/Diamondback, being able to meet and talk with the Spartan Brigade's battalion commanders face-to-face has allowed greater support opportunities for the aviation regiment.

"Every day, both elements from the aviation regiment and the Spartan Brigade's battalions brief each other, not just over a phone line, but often in person, because we are so close to each other," said Capt. Upshaw. "This has allowed us to constantly keep each other updated on what intelligence on enemy movements we are seeing, whether it is from the ground or the air."

Sergeant First Class Wilusz agrees having the constant support from an air unit is an essential combat multiplier for the troops on the ground.

"Originally coming from a ground combat unit, I can tell you from experience just knowing the air support for combat operations is there is a huge confidence builder for the troops on the ground," said Sgt. 1st Class Wilusz. "Whether you are in a convoy or dismounted, it is huge to know that someone is watching your back."

With the ability to cover terrain not accessible by ground elements, the 159th Avn. Regt. often flies ahead of 2nd HBCT convoys to provide route surveillance about potential dangers prior to the convoys reaching them.

"As an aviation regiment, if we are not getting the information we see from the skies to the battalions on the ground, then we are not doing our job," said Capt. Upshaw.

Along with providing key air surveillance, the 159th Avn. Regt. also provides counter-indirect fire for COS Marez/Diamondback they recently conducted joint training with the 2nd HBCT, which serves to sharpen the skills of both the Soldiers on the ground and the Soldiers in the air.

During a recent joint training effort, elements from the 159th Avn. Regt. and the 2nd HBCT's 3rd Squadron, 7th Calvary Regiment conducted a downed aircraft scenario on COS Marez.

"For an air unit, a downed aircraft is our greatest threat," said Sgt. 1st Class Wilusz. "With the chance to work with the 3/7th Calvary's quick response team on the exercise, we can be confident everyone knows what to expect in case that kind of incident would ever happen."

After recently arriving at COS Marez/Diamondback, members of the 159th Aviation Regiment feel they are not just an attached unit to the 2HBCT but an integral part of the unit and the Spartan team.

"I do not really think about us as two different units. We see members of the 2nd HBCT's battalions every day, whether it is in intelligence briefings or even going to the chow hall.

"It does not matter who is from Germany or who is from Fort Stewart; we are one unit and that helps transcend us into a highly effective combat element," said Sgt. 1st Class Wilusz.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16