LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Fierce lightning shattered the night sky March 25 as a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter's 350-pound blades sliced through the air, producing a continuous rain of thunder over the otherwise quiet Galuch Valley.

Crews and helicopters from Task Force Phoenix, TF Falcon, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, provided air transport for a major air-assault mission in Regional Command - East in support of Afghan National Security Forces and TF Red Bull operations.

TF Phoenix collaborated with Chinook crews from TF Shooter to complete their essential mission: to provide static load training to ANSF and conduct an air assault into the Galuch Valley allowing ANSF and TF Red Bull to remove enemy forces and speak with village elders.

"Static load training with (the ANSF) is absolutely critical to the success of our operations," said Lt. Col. Dennis McKernan, TF Phoenix, TF Falcon commander. "Operating around helicopters is extremely dangerous, and any soldier from any country must be trained how to operate on an aircraft, to include loading and unloading. The terrain is extremely rugged in Afghanistan. Off-loading soldiers into tight landing zones can be specifically challenging if the soldiers don't know what to do."

To ensure everyone was prepared to off-load an aircraft even in unsatisfactory conditions, TF Phoenix and Shooter Chinook crews flew despite lightning.

The huge engines quieted their loud roar and the blades slowed to a halt as the crews landed in Combat Outpost Xio and stepped out into the thick darkness.

"Most of the (ANSF) have never been on a CH-47 before. Cold load training allows them to get used to the aircraft and efficient at exiting the ramp when we arrive at the landing zone," said 1st Sgt. Daniel Snyder, first sergeant for D Company, TF Phoenix.

The training, conducted in complete darkness, is a simple, but crucial part of a successful air assault. It provides Soldiers with familiarity of the aircraft and procedures used during a mission.

Time is of the essence during air assaults with the challenges of rugged terrain, unpredictable weather, and the threat of enemy forces hidden in the shadows, Snyder said.

"You never know what kind of landing zone you will be flying into on a mission," Snyder said. "It could have hostiles present, or it could just be a difficult landing where we can only put the back two wheels on the ground. When that happens, there is a lot of stress on the pilots and crew."

"The faster (passengers) exit, the less that can go wrong," Snyder added.

The Chinook crews cycled through the groups just as efficiently as the ANSF absorbed the training.

Sgt. John Colwell, a flight engineer with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, TF Shooter, TF Falcon / 10th CAB, said he felt the ANSF were very motivated to learn and are ready for the mission.

When the training was complete, the ANSF and TF Red Bull Soldiers loaded into the aircraft and prepared to put all of their training into action during the air assault.

The ANSF and TF Red Bull Soldiers were all business when it came time to dismount the aircraft into the shadowy mountains surrounding the valley.

"I think it's great that the ANSF are augmented with our forces," Snyder said. "It lets them see what right looks like."

The aviation crews worked diligently to ensure each landing into the mountains was done to standard and done safely regardless of the unique challenges presented by the terrain.

"The greatest hazards were unimproved landing zones that can have large rocks that could damage the aircraft, or steep slopes that are near impossible to land on, unpredictable wind gusts, and enemy personnel (concealed) in the mountain sides and ditches," Snyder said.

With experienced crews manning each helicopter, the Soldiers were confident in the success of the operation.

"Our crews are the best. We purposely stack the crews to best complement each other," Snyder said. "All of us on this mission had done (air assaults) before. It's awesome when you use almost all of your training on one landing and the mission was successful. It's an amazing feeling,"

In a matter of hours, the Chinook crews safely inserted all of the groups into the Galuch Valley with no issues.

As crews returned to Bagram Airfield, they reflected on a successful joint mission.
"I feel that (Afghans) will soon be able to obtain their role as defenders in their fight against the forces threatening their country," Colwell said.


Brown serves with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force Phoenix, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Page last updated Thu April 7th, 2011 at 14:57