By Capt. Peter Smedberg, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade PAO June 5, 2014
FORT DRUM N.Y. -- Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, teamed up with Air Force joint terminal attack controllers to conduct the battalion's first AH-64 Apache helicopter joint aerial gunnery training exercise last month.
The joint training exercise was conducted May 12-22 on the restricted training area north of Fort Drum. The event provided realistic scenarios not typically integrated into aerial gunnery exercises. However, they were situations that 10th CAB aviators and JTACs can expect to encounter in combat.
Two of the JTACS participating in the training have operational experience working alongside 10th CAB flight crews during previous combat deployments to eastern Afghanistan. They used the training opportunity to mentor junior controllers, many of whom have never trained with Army aviators.
"A lot of them (JTACs) have (only) heard of engagements with helicopters," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Joe Fernandez, a senior JTAC and mentor from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. "For them to actually hear helicopters overhead, talk to them on the other end of the mic and realize the free-flowing language with the step-by-step talk was beneficial for them."
Each aircrew participated in scenarios conceived by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brad Ayers, 1-10 Aviation master gunner.
They were talked onto enemy targets to complete their engagements while staying in communication with JTACs operating from simulated battle positions on the ground.
Instead of one target appearing for flight crews to engage, as is the case in traditional AH-64 gunnery exercises, multiple target arrays appeared. JTACs and flight crews had to identify the correct target and destroy it, Ayers said.
Following each engagement, flight crews and JTACs had a chance to critique their gun camera footage with Ayers, who provided learning points based off of personal combat experience from both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I was definitely able to learn a lot, especially since every aircraft is different," said Air Force Senior Airman Marco Chavez, a junior JTAC assigned to the 22nd STS who usually works with fixed-wing aircraft. "Learning each aircraft's capabilities and what they like to do and what they like to hear was helpful."
The battalion was able to fully qualify 16 AH-64 Apache helicopter flight crews over the course of the exercise as well as build and foster a joint relationship with the JTACs they might operate with on future deployments.This relationship will help enhance the "sacred trust" that exists between aviators and the ground forces they support.
"The biggest difference between us and the fixed-wing guys is at the end of the day, we normally go back to the same FOB as them (ground forces) and have breakfast with them," Ayers said. "I have to look them in the face and make sure we did everything we could to keep them safe out there."