166th follows up on units' training
August 22, 2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Aug. 15, 2011) - It's said that the Devil is in the details, and at no time is that proverb more true than when a unit is preparing to deploy.
"There are a lot of things we can do. And they're little things - not big shifts - that help shape the training environment," said Lt. Col. Dan Gallagher, a transport battalion commander for the 166th Aviation Brigade. "I won't say it's too easy, but I would say it's not something we can't overcome."
Gallagher and other leaders from the 166th visited with Task Force Thunder (159th Combat Aviation Brigade) and its subordinate units throughout Regional Command " South Aug. 13-16, hoping for a better idea of how they can support the fight. The unit, which is headquartered at Fort Hood, Texas, offers training support to deploying Army Reserve and National Guard aviation units.
It's the only unit in the Army with the authority to validate the post-mobilization training of Reserve aviation units, which make up 47 percent of the Army's total aviation force, according to the Army Reserve website.
"We came out here to provide information and to gain information," said Col. Lawrence Madkins, the commanding officer of the 166th. "This allows me to go out and see the … commanders."
Madkins talked with the active-duty commanders about the Reserve and National Guard units augmenting them on deployment, while he talked to the National Guard and Reserve commanders about the training their Soldiers received before the deployment.
"That helps us refine the training program for the next unit that comes through," he said.
A Reserve or National Guard unit is usually notified about one year before deployment, and the expectation is that they train on their own for 10 months then spend about 60 days at Fort Hood training with the 166th, said Gallagher.
This trip allowed members of the 166th to get a better idea of how they could change their training plans.
During a morning-long briefing, Capt. Marcus Wilhelm, the company commander of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, a National Guard unit attached to Task Force Lift (7th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt.), expressed frustration with the focus of some of their training at Fort Hood because it duplicated training they had already completed. He said some of the time spent training on things like combatives could have been better spent flying the aircraft, practicing mission planning and going through aircrew progression.
"It's only three or four days, but time is time," he said.
In addition to maximizing time, it's important for the training to be as applicable as possible to real-life experiences units might face in theater, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"Primarily the training we've done in the last couple of years has been for Iraq: Operation New Dawn," Gallagher said. "However, we do have units that have been training for Afghanistan. The purpose of this trip was to go to the three combat aviation brigades in Afghanistan to learn (tactics, techniques, and procedures) so that when we do train those units going to Afghanistan, we're familiar with the latest TTPs for the operating environment."
"The biggest mistake people can make is to think that Afghanistan and Iraq are similar," Gallagher said. "I personally was deployed to Iraq as an (AH-60) Apache (helicopter) aviator, and it's just a very different fight. Just because of the terrain. There is the heat and the dust in Iraq, but the mountainous terrain changes how we fight dramatically."
"Bringing along the subject-matter experts, the (tactical air combat operations) guys, the (instructor pilots), the (standardization pilots), it gives them that face-to-face time to cut through that political correct-ness when you're talking colonels to colonels and just get down to the business of what it's really like, what's really happening and improving the process back home at Fort Hood," Wilhelm said.
"It gives them insight to the conditions here in Afghanistan, how the training the units went through at Fort Hood, whether it helped or didn't help them in preparing for the mission," he added.
Changes are definitely on the way.
"The biggest piece we've picked up on, because of the transition and personnel from the National Guard and Reserve, their force is getting less experience than it was 10 years ago," said Madkins.