FORT STEWART, Ga. - Soldiers of 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, stood on Donovan Field, joking and talking on a bright September day. They were waiting on helicopters from the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment to give them a ride to Hunter Army Airfield, where they would be conducting an Officer Professional Development Session, Sept. 30. The steady 'whoop whoop whoop' of a CH-47 Chinook signaled the start of a very eventful day for the officers.

"Today we wanted to take the opportunity to bring our officers from Fort Stewart over to Hunter Army Airfield so we can meet with 2/3 GSAB," said Col. Jim Crider, 1HBCT commander. "First, to build the relationship between our leadership and their leadership. We're going to work together in the future and train together over the next six to eight months. Secondly, it gives us an education on the different air frames that they use."

Once the Soldiers touched down on the airfield, they were separated to visit the many aircraft that the 3rd Aviation Regiment would bring to the fight.

"Seeing the different aircrafts that are going to be supporting us down range when the brigade goes to Afghanistan and having a better understanding of each aircraft's capabilities and possible limitations is vital for any mission," said Maj. Robert Olszewski, 1HBCT Information Operations Officer.

Along with UH-60 Blackhawks and CH-47 Chinooks, there were also OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and AH-64 Apaches.

"[Flying Apaches] gets me fired up," said Chief Warrant Officer Jennifer Hakeman, an Apache pilot in Alpha Co., 1st Attack Recon Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment. "It's like nothing else I've ever seen to watch them circle in. We walk out to the aircraft and just smile at it. Combat is like shark week, I can't really explain its beauty to some because it's a weapons platform."

For Chief Hakeman, the OPD afforded a terrific chance to speak about her capabilities as an Apache pilot.

"It's absolutely important and an incredible opportunity for us to talk to about 80 percent of our customer base," she said. "Because of scheduling, we usually don't have the time to do air to ground integration and it is so important. Especially when you're talking about near-term mission planning as well as long-term deployment based tactical situations. There's no substitute for a good AGI."

After they toured the various aircraft, the Soldiers were given a class on the various tasks that go into maintaining and repairing the aircraft.

"I'm a maintenance test pilot as well as a mission pilot," said Chief Warrant Officer Anthony Wolf, Charlie Co., 2/3 GSAB. "Every time a part is replaced or repaired you have to do both ground and air checks to make sure it's serviceable. I guess you could equate my job to working on a project car, except that a car never leaves the ground."

As 1HBCT prepares for more training in the future, it's crucial that AGIs like this take place.
"We're already doing some training with the pilots and I think it could be advantageous to both of us," said Col.Crider. "When a pilot is talking to a leader on the ground, to have a face to a name, gives us an advantage. I think we work harder for one another when we know each other, and so I think it is going to be a long term benefit."

For the pilots, the importance of meeting the Soldiers on the ground was just as vital.

"We really appreciate you guys coming out," Hakeman said. "A lot of times there is just questions and confusion from the ground guys, especially when it deals with planning. There are considerations that need to be thought of: like how long are we at a location, how to work with us, [what we bring to the fight]. Tell us what we need, and we'll figure it out because it's our job to serve the ground force commander."

After all the official training was out of the way, the Soldiers were given the opportunity to mingle with one another, building relationships that would extend into the battlefield.

"The passion of the apache pilot," said Maj. Olszewski, "And the passion you can see from all the other members of the aviation battalion made it very clear that they are here to help us in any way that they can. If we need something they will make sure it happens, even if they have to adjust their crew schedule, and that is very reassuring. When we are down on the ground conducting patrols we know that the folks up in the air, without a doubt, are going to support us with whatever they can."

The Soldiers returned by bus to Fort Stewart, some debating the varying strengths of the Apache and Kiowas while others pointed out key features of the modular Blackhawk and how they could be used in training and during deployment.

"This was designed to be an officer professional development session," said Col. Crider, "Where we take different topics and invest our time into the officer corps. This way, our younger officers can learn and grow. We know that we're never going to go into harm's way without our aviators."

Page last updated Fri October 7th, 2011 at 00:00