166th AV takes Air Assault students for a ride
March 11, 2013
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Division West's 166th Aviation Brigade supported the post's new Air Assault School Feb. 26 by providing orientation flights in two Black Hawks for 109 air assault students, most of whom had never before been in a helicopter.
This was the 166th Aviation Brigade's second mission in support of the school, where instructor Sgt. 1st Class Mootaz Alsultani said that approximately 80 percent of his students have never flown prior to the final phase of the course.
The Air Assault course is divided into three phases, the first being basic aircraft orientation. In the second, students hook up gear for sling load operations, but never actually board an aircraft. Finally, in the climax, or third, phase, the Soldiers actually rappel from a Black Hawk hovering 50 to 80 feet above the ground.
Capt. Steven Wax, a pilot with the 166th Aviation Brigade, recently graduated from Fort Hoods' Air Assault School, where he was the lone pilot in the class. To his surprise, he said, he learned that "a large portion of the Army has never even stepped inside, much less flown on, a helicopter."
According to Wax, the majority of his classmates were junior enlisted leaders, and this was to be their first helicopter flight ever. "Their apprehension was palpable," Wax said.
Wax also discovered the Air Assault School was not always receiving support from local aviation units for orientation flights. Therefore, Soldiers had to face their rappels cold, never having learned how to properly approach a helicopter, and certainly never having practiced an actual approach, which is very different from a theoretical discussion, Wax said.
Without a real flight orientation, Wax added, "they don't know how to properly strap in and conduct necessary pre-flight safety checks."
Wax's wheels began spinning. At the 166th Aviation Brigade -- the unit that trains 48 percent of all Army aviation assets for contingency operations -- the budget exists to fly, and brigade Soldiers always need flight training to stay current. Also, units being trained by the brigade at Fort Hood can use missions such as the Air Assault School's flight orientations for training.
Soon, Wax began encouraging the Air Assault School to submit requests for aviation support directly to the 166th Aviation Brigade.
"This justifies our flights, keeps us trained and ready to deploy, all while supporting the larger Fort Hood community," Wax said. "It's a win-win situation."
Wax said he is especially inspired by knowing how tremendously the members of his unit will gain from the additional flight hours.
"A well-trained brigade means that we, in turn, can offer better service to the mobilized units that are sent to us," Wax said. "Your credibility is lessened as a pilot instructor, if you haven't actually flown in a number of years. This way, when we instruct, we are up-to-date in our assessments, because we are flying weekly missions."
Now, Air Assault School Soldiers can receive a proper helicopter flight orientation before they reach their culminating training event, rappelling.
"This helps alleviate their tense nerves and is truly a morale-booster, because now they can focus more clearly as they tackle the most difficult final phase," Wax said.
For more information on the 166th Aviation Brigade, visit www.facebook.com/166thaviationbrigade.