75th Fires Brigade trains with 'boots in air'
March 8, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Members of the 75th Fires Brigade had a unique training opportunity last week, and it involved getting their boots off the ground, by going up in helicopters.
"The Soldiers were pretty pumped and excited to get to fly in helicopters. Especially the young guys, because they haven't had an opportunity to be in a helicopter before," said Lt. Col. Tom Roe, 3rd Battalion,13th Field Artillery commander. "They were excited like kids on Christmas."
The 1st Combat Aviation Brigade out of Fort Riley, Kan. supplied the helicopters. The 1st CAB is the aviation asset of the 1st Infantry Division.
"We brought down seven UH-60M Black Hawks for the assault aircraft and two UH-60L Black Hawks for the medevac aircraft, plus five OH-58D Kiowas as our scout and weapons aircraft," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chad Trenary, 1st CAB. As brigade tactical operations officer, Trenary was one of the initial planners for the training.
"My role was to coordinate ops and work with range control at Fort Sill to make this operation go as smooth as possible. Any time we can do bilateral unit training we jump on that opportunity. It fit our needs, and it fit the needs of the 75th. We train together in a new environment, and it gives the Soldiers the benefit of working with aviation assets," Trenary said.
The weeklong training involved several scenarios. One of the most important exercises involved evacuating a "wounded" Soldier using medevac helicopters in what is commonly called a "dustoff" operation.
"The dustoff training simulated taking a wounded Soldier off the battlefield and putting them on a medevac copter. The ground force commander called in a medevac request," Trenary added. Once the commander got that request in, a UH-60L air ambulance from C Company, 2-1st CAB came in with an armed UH-60M providing protection. Soldiers fanned out in a circle on the perimeter to provide cover fire for the landing zone. Combat medics on the ground tended to the wounded Soldier who was strapped to a litter. On command, the Soldier was carried to the medevac chopper the minute it landed. Then the air ambulance lifted off, taking the Soldier back to an aid station for additional care.
"Everybody gets to practice a medevac mission. The platoon medics can do the initial care until the medevac helicopters bring in the next-level medics who stabilize the patient while transporting them back to an aid station," Roe said.
The goal of these training exercises was to make everything as real as possible. That was the task of Capt. Danny Kane, 1st CAB's "White Cell" officer in charge, the behind-the-scenes coordinator of aviation assets.
"We set up the scenarios for whatever the commander wants to do to meet their ground training objectives," Kane said, adding that the commanders want Soldiers in the leadership positions to deal with rapidly changing situations themselves. "They don't have everything preplanned to where the leaders in the field know what will happen. If the commander wants us to make an aircraft "break" so the Soldiers have to execute alternate contingencies, we can do that," he said.
"Aviation support is an asset a platoon leader can call in while his unit is carrying out its objectives," said Capt. David Anaya, Air Defense Airspace Management officer, 75th FiB. He added that the OH-58D Kiowa helicopters are used to cover a building that's being searched, doing a patrol from the air and looking for hostiles that may be approaching the structure while ground forces are mounting the assault.
"Right now we're doing a 'Key Leader Engagement' exercise, where Soldiers are looking for persons of interest. It may be a local leader they want to find so they can have a meeting. Or it can be a search for a known hostile leader who they want to capture and take elsewhere. So it can be different focuses," Anaya said.
Roe watched as Soldiers from B Battery, 3-13th FA, under the command of Capt. Rafael Chagolla, poured out of three Black Hawk helicopters that landed in a nearby field. Many of the troops spread out in a defensive perimeter around a two-story building on Fort Sill's Urban Assault Course. Then a squad of five Soldiers "stacked up" on the staircase outside the building where they believed their targets were hiding. Once the squad was ready the leader gave the "go" command and the troops rushed up the stairs and into the building. A few minutes later two Soldiers came out with a person of interest in custody. More Soldiers rushed to tighten the security perimeter around the building as a second insertion team went in.
Eventually three key leaders were brought out and taken away. All during the assault a Kiowa helicopter provided air cover, occasionally firing blank rounds at the invisible 'hostiles' in the bushes.
Trenary, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot himself, knows that the Kiowa pilots take their role seriously. "If he's talking to Soldiers on the ground and they're telling him where they are taking fire from, he'll try to help them out. The Kiowas carry rockets in the pods plus the .50-caliber machine guns on both sides,"Trenary said. "And the pilots will usually carry their M4 submachine guns on their laps so they can return fire if someone is shooting at them when their .50-cals are pointed the wrong direction. That will usually make the bad guys keep their heads down," he laughed.
"I was very happy with the way our Soldiers executed these operations. They did a great job training with live helicopters for the first time," said Roe. "Until now they had just done classroom training and practiced getting in and getting out of mockups on the ground. This was the first time most of them actually touched a real helicopter. To bring them to Fort Sill for training is something special our Soldiers will remember. When we have to put the training into play for real, we're going to be better prepared for it," Roe added. With training like this the 75th Fires Brigade can continue to live up to it's motto, "Tough As Diamonds."