FORT STEWART, GA -- Hunter Army Airfield pilots of the 1st Attack Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment kept their heads in the sky during Apache helicopter training on Fort Stewart's

Multipurpose Range Complex, Aug. 19.
Complete with moving targets and hilly berms, the aviators had the perfect backdrop for realistic training in preparation for their upcoming 12-month deployment to Iraq in support of Iraqi Freedom.

High inside a tower, range control operators monitor the action in the air via sophisticated, stabilized cameras, computerized scoring systems and radio communication.

The Soldiers flew Apache helicopters over the trees and hovered while they harmonized their weapons. The harmonization is to ensure that their weapon had a straight shot from the aircraft, which is similar to zeroing a rifle.

Pilots fired their aircraft weapons systems, which included Hellfire missiles, during gunnery in order to qualify and pass Tables VII and VIII live-fire training. Table VII is the live fire practice round, while Table VIII issued the recorded score needed to qualify.

A side target, which moved from left to right, simulated armored vehicles while the frontal target remained stationary, giving the pilots the necessary targets, which replicated some of the real world scenarios they may encounter.

Chief Warrant Officer John Rechtien, 1st Bn., 10th Avn. Reg. said usually when the pilots come out to the gunnery range they don't get to use the actual weapons systems.

"This gives us the chance to not only fly the aircraft," he said, "it gives us the weapon system opportunity to do a simulated engagement."

The engagement is limited by time and range. Rechtien stated that the limitations puts pilots under just enough stress to get them used to moving the weapons in a tense environment. "But not too much stress where they make any mistakes," said Rechtien.

Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Mike Slocum said that they try to make the training as realistic as possible.

"We set up these scenarios so that they are just like real situations we would have to respond to in Iraq or Afghanistan," Slocum said. "If we can't hit the target, then we are no use to them [Soldiers on the ground]. Gunnery is critical to what we do."

The Apache's newest modifications help reduce heat signatures, which serves as protection to pilots in the air and also from enemy ground to air attacks.

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which have been used by the pilots for years, are remotely piloted or self-piloted aircraft. The UAVs are equipped with cameras, sensors, communications equipment or other payloads the pilots may use to locate targets. A piece of new equipment aboard the Apache allows pilots to receive UAV feeds directly into the front seat of the aircraft.

"We have been operating now with UAV aircraft for quite a while," Slocum said. "But the technology of being able to bring those feeds inside the aircraft is a new capability."
"The Apache is the first line support to the ground commander for close air support," said Rechtien.

Along with the new equipment, the Apaches are also outfitted with Multi-Sensor Towed Array Detection Systems. The new MTADS is primarily used by the pilots to detect unexploded ordinance.

"We can now actually see farther than our weapon systems can shoot," said Slocum. "Our weapon systems are rated well past eight kilometers. We are more effective that way."
According to Slocum, one of the biggest challenges they will face as pilots while deployed is ensuring positive identification of potential threats before engaging the target.

"Pulling the trigger, that's the easy part," Slocum said. "Understanding when to pull the trigger is what's important."

One of the first items on the to-do list for the Soldiers of 1/10 Avn. Reg. is to brief the brigade combat teams and infantry battalions of their capabilities and the newest features such as night vision capabilities, that the aircraft comes equipped with.

Slocum said the battalion recently had the opportunity to prove its competency during a rotation at the National Training Center in California. He said usually incoming commanders enter a battalion with the mind-set of building a team; however, he is elated to find the Soldiers of 1/10 ready to go down range and complete the mission at hand.

"The former Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Michael Corson did a fantastic job getting this unit ready," said Slocum. "Everybody is strong throughout the board."

The Apache unit will serve as an asset to the commanders on the ground because the pilots are an Army element requiring no further outside coordination to receive the support commanders may need. While down range, the unit in part will be to conduct search and rescue, cordon searches, air-to-ground integration, and to support convoy operations.

"He can fly 24 hours a day and get support any time he needs it on the ground, or wherever he may be located," Rechtien said when speaking about the commander.

The unit reflagged from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment to the 1/10 due to the Army's transformation, which made the both the light Avn. Bde. of the 10th Mtn. Div. and the heavy Combat Aviation Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division medium brigades.

The Army wants units to deploy as a stand-alone task force for timely readiness in any situation. In part, these two tactical battalions will be moved to create two separate stand-alone attack units at both Hunter and Fort Drum.

While deployed, the unit will be attached to Task Force Lightning's 25th Infantry Division. Following their return from Iraq, the battalion and more than 400 Soldiers and more than 20 AH-64D Apache Longbow Attack helicopters will move to Fort Drum, N.Y., home of the 10th Mountain Division.

Slocum said that Families that remain on Hunter during the deployment will be taken care of through the Family Support Group and rear detachment. Family members who decide to transition to Fort Drum while their spouse's are deployed will have the members of the forward support advisors to offer them any needed assistance.