FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- A now UH-60 Black Hawk student-pilot here was assisted by Aviators while training as an Army Ranger seven years ago.

Recently, 1st Lt. Ken Williard returned the favor by providing a "lift" to 6th Ranger Training Battalion Soldiers at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Thirty UH-60 student pilots spent the past week planning "Operation Maverick," which began July 7 at Lowe Army Heliport. They then flew to Florida, where they fed 196 tired, hungry Rangers while transporting them between two training sites.

Williard attended Ranger school in July 2003 as a private first class. He said rumors spread during his training of Fort Rucker pilots providing transportation and lunch, but he didn't believe it until he saw it with his own eyes.

He recalled his excitement over seeing formations of Black Hawks descend upon the Eglin training site, calling the gesture "a huge lift."

This time around, he was in the pilot's seat and distributed pizza and energy drinks.

"I know what the guys on the ground are going through. Back then I wanted to be a pilot. Now I'm flying the mission. It's an amazing feeling," he said.

One Ranger agreed as he ate slices of pepperoni pizza two at a time.

"Motivation is the biggest factor in driving on when you're tired and hungry," said 1st Lt. Daniel Stinnett. "The food boosts morale. The transportation keeps us from getting too tired. It's a big help."

Providing lunch is a longtime tradition that started when UH-1 Huey pilots received emergency help from Rangers training at Eglin years ago, according to Department of the Army civilian Lee Brown, a Black Hawk flight instructor at Lowe. Pilots thanked the Rangers by offering them lunch and the tradition never stopped.

Operation Maverick was much more than just feeding exhausted Soldiers, officials said.
Maj. Gen. James O. Barclay III, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, flew during the mission.

His time here comes to an end when he changes command later this summer, and he wanted to be a part of the event one last time.

"Today is a fun thing for (the Rangers) and you. (It's an opportunity) to see what it means to plan and execute (a mission)," Barclay said. "Remember that every one of these is a learning event. This is one of those special days where you get to do something extra."

He noted missions involving two sets of trainees are very rare in the Army, but provide both groups a realistic, effective training situation.

Not every Black Hawk class experiences this particular mission, though they do incorporate one large "real world" mission for every student-pilot, said Class 10-05 Leader 1st Lt. Sean Richardson.

He said his class is due to graduate in mid-September, and working with other servicemembers on this mission prepares his fellow students for future deployments.

Ranger missions are performed during Black Hawk students' Basic Combat Skills course phase, according to CW3 Clint Dirksen, E Company, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment's 2nd Platoon, Section 2 leader, which the missions fall under.

While the exercise reinforces careful route planning, mission briefs, preparation and accuracy during execution, the Rangers also benefit significantly from the longstanding arrangement.

"They get (the) experience of flying in a Black Hawk - something they'll probably do on deployments," Dirksen said.

Rangers training at Eglin are in their third and final stage of the school, according to Staff Sgt. Laurencio Lopez, 6th Ranger Bn. operations air noncommissioned officer. The students working with Fort Rucker Soldiers last week had already spent about 11 days in the field conducting air assault operations, boating operations in swamps and the ocean, raids and other activities.

"Training with Fort Rucker is critical," he said. "The realism it provides (is important). They (have to) plan for the pick up."

The experience also provides Rangers opportunities to grow as leaders, overcome challenges and simulate combat scenarios, Lopez said.

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