CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq - On a May afternoon at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in northern Iraq, visibility diminished from three miles to one in less than an hour, enough to cancel all but the most critical aviation missions for the most experienced combat aviators.
For the air crew of the "Stingrays," Company A, 3-25th General Support Aviation Battalion, "Task Force Hammerhead," 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, the extreme weather amounted to another challenging mission change. The Command and Control team is always prepared to navigate poor weather and restricted visibility conditions to safely transport U.S. Division - North's commanding general to critical meetings in Iraq.
The Stingrays transport some of the most senior and influential personnel throughout USD - North. It's a "no-fail" mission and, by all accounts, one the unit has performed flawlessly since arriving in Iraq almost nine months ago.
"Our primary mission is to support the Task Force Marne and USD - North Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo; the Deputy Commanding General for Maneuver, Brig. Gen. Patrick Donahue; and the Deputy Commanding General for Support, Brig. Gen. Thomas Vandal, as well as [certain] other general support missions," explained Capt. Bonnie Wood, commander, Co. A, 3-25th GSAB, and a native of Artemas, Pa. "The mission is critical because we allow Task Force Marne's senior leaders to move around their battle space quickly, safely and efficiently."
The Stingrays have accomplished their mission with about 50 Soldiers from two locations, COB Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq, and Contingency Operating Location Diamondback in Mosul, Iraq. They are doing it with UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters modified for their unique mission.
Each primary helicopter contains an Army Airborne Command and Control System, also referred to as the A2CS2, and an experienced signal support systems specialist to operate it. The A2C2S functions like a mobile tactical operations center. In addition to multi-band and satellite radios, this airborne command and control system contains Command Post of the Future and Blue Force Tracker capabilities, among other systems. Both CPOF and BFT give the aircraft's general officer passengers unprecedented communication ability and situational awareness in flight.
Since October 2009, the Stingrays have flown more than 700 missions, accumulated more than 5,000 flight hours, and have earned high praise from TF Marne's most senior leader.
"Alpha Company and my particular pilot and air crew are absolutely invaluable to my mission," said Maj. Gen. Cucolo. "We operate in a huge battle space, so much of which is only accessible by rotary-wing aircraft. Many of the locations I need to go are only accessible by rotary wing. As the commanding general, I simply must have the ability to pick up and move quickly. Alpha Company provides me that ability.
"They also bring much needed agility," continued Maj. Gen. Cucolo. "There have been instances, for example, where I will be meeting with a Sheik in far western Ninewah province and, over the radio, my aide-de-camp will receive word that I am needed in Kirkuk province. It won't be something that's part of the day's flight plan, but the pilots and air crew who I have are capable of adjusting. They do it every day, and they bring a level of credibility that makes me feel like I can really do anything, anytime, anywhere," he said. "They have done a fantastic job for us. They are all great Soldiers and I am proud to serve with them."
According to Capt. Wood, her unit's success is due, in large part, to the competence of the maintenance test pilots and platoon sergeants who manage a variety of daily, scheduled and phase maintenance demands, as well as the extraordinary depth of experience of the unit's aviators and air crews.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Boley, instructor pilot and primary CAC pilot, and Sgt. John Stefanik, crew chief and UH-60L Black Hawk mechanic, are two Co. A, 3-25th GSAB Soldiers with prior CAC experience in combat. Both appreciate the role the Stingrays play in facilitating TF Marne's mission throughout USD-N.
"I am an instructor pilot, but my primary job is to facilitate movement of the commanding general anywhere he needs to go," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Boley, a native of St. Louis. "Most of us have done this type of mission before. We understand the need to be flexible and dynamic, and to take the general wherever his mission dictates.
"I do mean anywhere," he continued. "For instance, there are times when Maj. Gen. Cucolo needs to land in the middle of the desert and link up with a ground unit operating somewhere in USD-North. So, really, whether it's an established forward operating base or a simple grid location in a remote location it doesn't matter. We do it and I enjoy it."
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Boley's senior crew chief similarly loves performing CAC duties.
"I love this mission because you really feel like you are part of the game so-to-speak, not sitting on the sidelines," explained Sgt. Stefanik, a native of Houston, Texas, who now calls Pensacola, Fla., home. "We're successful because we have all done this before. We understand the unique equipment requirements ... that a general officer needs. We make sure we're professional and just do what we are all trained to do during every mission."

Page last updated Thu June 3rd, 2010 at 07:52