FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Aviators from the the 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment assisted Stryker Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment Jan. 20 with aircraft familiarization and other aviation-related tasks.

In the crisp morning air, Soldiers from B Company hastily exited a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with weapons at the low ready securing an area that could possibly be crawling with enemy insurgents.

Although just a field exercise, the training the Soldiers received will prepare them for upcoming missions.

According to Staff Sgt. Brian Reed, platoon sergeant, the training is important because it provides an alternative for the Soldiers who rely primarily on the heavily armored Stryker vehicles.

"This is the first time most of the Soldiers have ever been on a Black Hawk," said Reed.

In alternative terrain, such as in the mountains, the capabilities of the Stryker are limited. Flying in on a Black Hawk eliminates those concerns, the two tour Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran went on to say.

"Experience is the best teacher," said Pfc. Mike Macatee. "I'm glad we're learning this here. I don't want Iraq to be the first time I get on a helicopter."

"This will definitely add another element to the battlefield," said 1st Lt. Aaron McKenney, platoon leader. "Plus, it reinforces to them the importance of Stryker Infantry (Soldiers) honing their light infantry skills."

"You never know what you're going to get into," added Sgt. Kenneth Miller, Alpha Team leader.

A few moments pass, and the silence of the afternoon is broken by the booming voice of the training sergeant, "Go!"

The team charges forward without hesitation. The sound of their gear rattles in time with the pound of each foot hitting the ground. The Soldiers are precise, focused, and tight lipped until they stepped up three feet into the helicopter.

They quickly grabbed their four-point harness and buckled in. With the addition of up to 70 pounds of gear, some joked that this is easier said than done.

"Can you see the strap," asks one Soldier sitting in the middle. "It's right here," calls a voice. He turns to his right to see the thin black restraint being handed to him and quickly locks it into place.

"The goal is for this to be instinctive to them," said Reed. "I want them to be able to perform the action without much (of a) thought process."

Just as quickly as they entered, the Soldiers exit, and immediately simulate securing a potentially hostile area. After a few moments, they rise to watch another team perform the same steps.

As the day draws to a close, the Soldiers appeared more confident, knowing these new skills will help them meet the challenges during their upcoming deployment later this year.

Sergeant Rob Frazier is assigned to 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. This article appeared in Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.