By Staff Sgt. Thomas DuvalJune 9, 2016
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo -- Since its humble beginning in the 1860s, when balloons were used for aerial reconnaissance, Army aviation has been relied on by Soldiers to accomplish the operational and tactical needs of the United States Army.
From observation to troop movement, aviators are called upon to be reliable professionals who can adapt to a wide variety of missions. Since 1999, Soldiers deployed to Kosovo in support of NATO's peace support mission understand the importance of aviation all too well.
On June 8, 2016, multinational aviators came together on Camp Bondsteel to test their adaptability by conducting a multinational and multi-ship operation in Kosovo deemed Operation Icarus.
"The purpose of the operation was to build the alliance between the U.S. and the NATO partners in Kosovo while exercising and assessing internal abilities to respond to complex situations and contingencies," said Capt. William Hathaway, operations officer assigned to the 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 285th Aviation Regiment.
The event incorporated crews from the U.S., Swiss and Croatian militaries and allowed the allied aviation flight crews, planners and leaders to test their tactics, techniques and procedures alongside one another.
Additionally, Hathaway said the operation allowed the units to access their decision making process all the way from the crew chiefs to the leaders.
"Decisions made during the exercise are not as important as understanding why those decision were made, and the resolve to refine the process that led to a particular decision," said Hathaway. "Stressing the capabilities of the individual and of the collective team, in a safe manner, is all that is required to ascertain the deficiencies in those capabilities and of the processes in place."
Understanding these capabilities is important for any organization, but even more so when dealing with multinational allies with different procedures.
"There is the potential when conducting multi-ship operations that something could go wrong... with airframes and aircrews with different procedures and capabilities, this potential is increased," said Hathaway.
Hathaway said the potential of these hazards decrease when the allied forces improve familiarity and build trust between the aircrews.
With 31 troop contributing nations supporting the Kosovo Force mission, trusting each other plays a vital role for mission success and could be the difference in life and death.
To stress this point, Hathaway and his team took the training beyond a simple multi-ship formation flying over Kosovo, adding a few potentially catastrophic twists to the scenario.
Approximately 45 minutes into the flight, two UH-60 Black Hawks carrying a Turkish reactionary force broke off from the multinational formation and began a simulated plummet towards the surrounding mountaintops.
Two downed aircrafts and multiple casualties made an already difficult mission even harder.
"Injecting a two-ship downed aircraft scenario into an already, admittedly, complex flight creates the potential for any error to be compounded," said Hathaway. "No organization can grow and develop without first determining the areas in which improvement is needed."
By recognizing these errors in an austere training environment, the unit can prevent them from happening in a real-world scenario, he added.
With more than 4,400 KFOR service members relying on the aviation crews for various movements throughout Kosovo, perfecting these skills while eliminating errors directly impacts KFOR's ability to accomplish its mission.
"By working in cohesion with other NATO partners, KFOR's overall ability to maintain a safe and secure environment in Kosovo is strengthened," Hathaway said. "Additionally by stressing the capabilities of medevac helicopter response to mass casualty situations, the medevac unit will be better situated to provide real-world response in the Kosovo area of operations."
From troop movement to medical evacuation, the aviators of Multinational Battle Group-East and KFOR overcame each obstacle thrown in their direction and proved they were prepared to work together to accomplish any mission.
The MNBG-E and KFOR flight crews plan to conduct similar training in the future as they look to refine internal and multi-echelon processes that improve the units overall readiness and, in turn, provide the historical reliability Army aviation is known for in KFOR's ability to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement in Kosovo.