By Michele Vowell, Courier staffApril 14, 2014
In a combat zone overseas or in the back-40 of Fort Campbell, every Air Assault mission requires a support element to keep the operation going forward.
On Tuesday, Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, conducted Operation Golden Eagle, the first brigade-sized Air Assault training mission conducted by a Screaming Eagle unit in more than a decade.
The combined-arms exercise assessed the division's ability to plan, coordinate and execute complex operations and the ability to react with speed, surprise and lethality.
While about 1,100 "Rakkasans" and "Wings of Destiny" Soldiers and more than 40 helicopters conducted dozens of sling load missions, 400 Soldiers with the 626th Brigade Support Battalion, "Assurgam," were working behind the scenes at Range 63 to get the job done.
"We work side-by-side with our aviation brothers to conduct the Air Assault mission," said Maj. Dominick Supersad, 626th BSB support operations officer-in-charge.
"There's a lot of synchronization, coordination … Throughout the Air Assault operation, our goal is to provide the right support at the right time, quickly and efficiently."
To perform efficiently, the 626th is divided into four companies which have distinct and different responsibilities.
"The sustainment part of this is huge because we provide operational reach and endurance for our combat forces," said Lt. Col. Charles P. Downie, 626th BSB commander. "They can carry only so much with them. It's critical that we're here, standing by, as soon as they call for resupply to get that out to them to sustain that combat operation."
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
From the food supply to fuel, the 626th brigade support operations section ensures the supplies are sufficient and the assets within the BSB are properly used to support 3rd BCT's operations.
The 626th BSB provides support to troops in the field in several critical commodity areas to include food and water, fuel, ammunition, medical and maintenance.
"Many times during the operation, we are tasked to provide "speedball" packages, which is quick resupply of those critical supplies that they need," Supersad said.
Class 1 is food and water.
"Class 1 starts with proper headcount, proper coordination with our DFAC to ensure our Soldier gets the proper meals, proper MREs," Supersad said. "Our goal is to feed a Soldier and make sure they are fed well in order to sustain the warfighter."
Master Sgt. Tracy Wilson oversees the Class 1 supplies.
"We make sure everyone is fed and healthy," she said. "Food is very important. You talk about motivation factor for a Soldier. You are talking about food, mail and finance."
Wilson said a hot meal, when in the field, "really goes a long way."
Class 3 is fuel.
"Fuel is critical in that the units move quickly, so the fuel has to be at the right place at the right time in the right amount," Supersad said.
Staff Sgt. Latasha Boyd monitored and forecast fuel consumption during Operation Golden Eagle.
"All of the units have resupplied as of yesterday, so actually we are prepared to go the duration, which is four days," she said. "We know about how much fuel we'll be using on a daily basis."
Class 5 is ammunition.
"We have to figure packages at the ready for our units," Supersad said. "They come in, they draw what they need and drive out."
For Golden Eagle, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Larry Hufford collected all of the ammunition inventories twice a day.
"That gives the brigade a snapshot of what we have on hand and what we're short on," he said.
Class 8 is medical supplies.
"We have Role 2 facilities here, so if a Soldier is sick, has an issue or there is an accident, they can be taken care of," Supersad said.
The 626th Role 2 facility includes "… treatment assets, evacuation assets and an array of ancillary services -- laboratory, X-ray, dental, physical therapy -- and a patient hold section that can hold up to 20 patients for a 48 hour period," said Capt. Adam Seybert, company commander for Charlie Company, 626th Medical Company.
The facility prepares patients for medical evacuation or return to duties in the field.
Class 9 is maintenance.
"That's a big piece right now because of the weather," Supersad said.
A storm over the weekend and rain Monday resulted in muddy trenches and multitudes of puddles hindering vehicle -- and personnel -- maneuverability.
"The biggest thing we have right now is recovery missions. Everybody gets stuck in the mud," said Sgt. 1st Class Timmy Moore, who oversees brigade maintenance. "We had a [MRAP] buffalo that we recovered a couple of nights ago due to the weather, but it was nothing that we couldn't handle. We've got the right people on the job and made the mission happen. Whatever they throw at us, we're ready for it."
Alpha Company -- Distribution & Bravo Company -- Maintenance
For Alpha Company, 626th BSB, the mission is clear: ensuring the 101st Abn. Div. troops in the field have transportation, ammunition and fuel.
"We've been having a little more difficulty with the mud than we've been having since we've been out here," said Sgt. 1st Class Shane Towns, platoon sergeant for the distribution platoon. "It's just bringing a lot of havoc for us."
Heavy equipment and vehicles lodged in crevasses of mud, making transporting vehicles from Fort Campbell garrison to the field environment and back more of a challenge.
"It's the mud factor," said Staff Sgt. Jessica Vanleuven, a 626th motor transporter. "When we get stuck in the mud, we put it in low [gear] to help get us out. If we can't get out, we have to go to Bravo Company to ask for wrecker assistance."
If a truck gets stuck in the mud or breaks down in the field, the 626th BSB Bravo Company Soldiers are the ones to call for assistance.
Private 1st Class Jeffrey Perry spent a bit of Tuesday morning repairing a Field Litter Ambulance (FLA), as Pfc. Shane Thompson offered a helping hand.
"It looks like the power steering line has a problem," Perry said, as he returned to the mission at hand.
Towns said his section has seven vehicles, but "we are responsible for securing most of the vehicles for the entire brigade," he said.
An Army Veteran of 17 years, Towns said Operation Golden Eagle has helped his Soldiers to prepare for future deployments.
"This is validating our readiness for combat deployments," he said. "We are not ready like we thought we were. But I don't think we're not trained, we're just not to the level we want to be."
Charlie Company -- Medical
During training or in the field, medics and medical personnel must be prepared for any injury -- from a gunshot wound to burns to broken limbs.
"We have a lot of medics that have a lot of combat experience, so they have a list of things that they've seen over the course of four, five, even six deployments," said Capt. Adam Seybert.
"They know some of the common injuries, so we rely on them to put some realism in a scenario. Those are the injuries we try to focus on for a lot of the trauma assessments."
The 626th Medical Company Soldiers faced such a scenario Tuesday morning when treating a combat casualty who was ejected from a vehicle that ran over an improvised explosive device.
Corporal Nicholas Campbell served as the mock patient, who had two tourniquets applied to both legs when he "arrived" at the Charlie Company aid station.
During the exercise, Spc. Diana Pickard cleared his airway and his vital signs, Sgt. Raquel Holiday secured the patient's head. Time ticked away and Sgt. Joseph Langhammer, aid station NCOIC, kept one eye on the patient and one on his watch.
"The EVAC arrives in seven minutes," he shouted.
The team of five or six Soldiers used those seven minutes to correctly assess and reassess the patient's needs and attend to them promptly.
"I just make sure that they are on par with that assessment. That the life-saving interventions that need to be done are being done at the right time; that they are being done in the right way," said Langhammer, a trauma team leader with combat experience. "The timing is essential."
Pickard said training in the field is important to improve her skills.
"Doing this training over and over again makes it muscle memory," she said. "Once it's muscle memory and you see a real patient, you won't get as nervous 'cause you know what you're doing."
For some Soldiers, the injury may not be physical, but emotional or spiritual. Chap. (Capt.) Jeff Crispin, 626th BSB chaplain, addresses these stressors by acting as a sounding board for any "Assurgam" Soldiers in need.
"Everybody knows they have a mission to complete, but the mission creates stress and hardship doesn't take vacations," he said. "Babies being born, Families getting terminal diagnosis, relationship conflicts -- it's the gamut."
For additional health issues or concerns, Charlie Company also includes a behavioral health social worker, psychologist and two technicians and a preventive medicine professional.
"[Behavioral Heath] go[es] to the different company areas, check[s] out Soldiers and make[s] sure that they are doing OK out here," Seybert said. "They analyze some of the trends that we have with behavioral health issues. Really just to make sure we are taking care of our Soldiers physically and making sure we are taking care of our Soldiers minds as well."
Preventative medicine does water testing, soil testing and air testing to monitor those levels to make sure they are within the Army tolerance.
"That kind of plays into taking care of us physically," Seybert said. "As we are out here longer and longer in these conditions, we start to get the sicknesses that develop because of poor hygiene and sanitation. So, they are out here to make sure we are taken care of."
By midday Tuesday, Downie said the interaction between aviation and ground units is critical to being mission successful. He praised his "Assurgam" troops and their work on Operation Golden Eagle.
"This is a great opportunity for this battalion, this brigade and this division to exercise this skill set and continue to refine that over time," he said. "We need to get better at it. We're doing a great job out here. My Soldiers are doing a great job. We are learning a lot of things out here. So, next time we do this, we're going to be that much better and more proficient at it."