Soldiers volunteer to become door gunners
Spc. Aaron L. Childers, a door gunner with C Company, 2-10 Aviation, Task Force Knighthawk, installs an M-240H machine gun onto a UH-60 Black Hawk before a training flight Friday at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield. As a result of high operational tempo, Childers, an infantryman with F Company Pathfinders, 2-10 Aviation, TF Knighthawk, and nearly a dozen non-aviation Soldiers volunteered to become door gunners to augment the unit's crew chiefs. Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd L. Pouliot.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- A high operations tempo and an opportunity to do something different is turning 10th Combat Aviation Brigade motor transport operators, vehicle mechanics, petroleum specialists and an infantryman into helicopter door gunners to augment the unit's air crews.

When Spc. Levi T. Powell, a motor transport operator with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Knighthawk, heard that a flight company was looking for volunteers to become door gunners, he quickly let it be known that he was interested.

"It sounded like a fun thing to do," said Powell, who takes this opportunity very seriously. He is learning all he can about the helicopter systems so he can better assist his crew chiefs.

Air crews work together to ensure aviation missions are completed safely and efficiently. The 10th CAB has four airframes: the AH-64 Apache and the OH-58 Kiowa only have space for two pilots; and the UH-60 Black Hawk and the CH-47 Chinook, which transport personnel and cargo, require two crew members in addition to two pilots.

"We have a very high operations tempo," said Sgt. 1st Class Craig R. Covington, 10th CAB standardization noncommissioned officer. Since only one of the crew members is required to be a crew chief, door gunners are trained to assist the crew, thus freeing up other crew chiefs.

When the number of missions increases, the additional crew members allow personnel to get adequate rest, Covington said. Lack of rest can lead to catastrophic outcomes. Crew chiefs also can use their time on the ground to conduct important aircraft maintenance.

Once a potential door gunner is medically cleared to fly, he or she undergoes many hours of training on the tasks required to be an aircraft crew member. These new crew members must learn aircraft systems, the M-240H weapon system, how to engage targets, how to operate with night vision goggles, and air crew coordination.

"It's challenging learning all the aircraft duties," Powell said. "I like it. It's giving me a new experience."

Spc. Aaron L. Childers, an infantryman from F Company Pathfinders, 2-10 Aviation, TF Knighthawk, appreciates the unique work environment.

"In the infantry, I was always on the ground," said Childers, who already has more than 30 flight hours. "This will be a different change of pace. I like the camaraderie here, not only as a crew but as a company. When you're in the aircraft, you're not talking to your first sergeant; you're just talking to someone else who is part of your crew."

Motivation is one of the most valued traits for potential door gunners, according to Covington. A lot of their tasks will require initiative and the ability to work unsupervised; if a pilot is turning left, a door gunner may be the only crew member able to see an obstacle, such as another aircraft, and advise the pilot to stop his or her turn in order to avoid a collision.

"We get Soldiers come up to us and ask to be door gunners," Covington said. "That tells us they're motivated. We talk to their leadership to see if they can give them to us."

The opportunity to become a door gunner has its unique challenges, but for those who accept them and are willing to learn and put in the work, being a member of an air crew is an experience like no other.

Page last updated Thu December 13th, 2012 at 09:03