By Spc. Thomas ScaggsAugust 24, 2017
LIELVARDE AIR BASE, Latvia-- U.S. Army aviators gathered inside a conference room, eager to hear a briefing about their next exercise: Falcon's Talon. The meeting began in textbook Army fashion. PowerPoint slides guided a discussion about a simulated conflict, offered background information on the scenario, maps showed the enemy's movements, and a planned route to victory.
Then, things took a turn toward the unexpected. The pilots and crews were told that they are officially on notice; at any time in the next 48 hours, they will be ordered to gather their personnel, equipment, and aircraft and execute a scatter plan away from the base. Communication will be cut with their higher headquarters, leaving junior leaders, at the platoon level, fully responsible for the mission's success.
The exercise would see small groups venture out into the countryside and work alongside Soldiers from the Latvian National Guard to avoid detection of their aircraft, move strategically to multiple locations along a path, and most importantly in preserving their combat power--survive.
Aircrews from Task Force Baltic Phoenix, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (LI), received the call for the start of Exercise Falcon's Talon on August 20 at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia.
"The Latvians have been extensively integrated into Falcon's Talon," said Maj. Nathan Colvin, officer in charge of Task Force Baltic Phoenix, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. "They've provided two Zemessardze battalions, which is their National Guard, an air defense radar section to track our aircraft's progress, and Mi-17 helicopters with infrared to search for our aircraft. A lot of times U.S. forces are in the lead in these training scenarios, but in this case, it's actually the Latvians who have the lead. Seeing the Latvians in charge reminds us that we're not up here alone and that, through our interoperability, we're able to build a stronger Alliance."
The exercise is a culminating training event for the brigade with battalion task forces simultaneously training in Romania and Germany in addition to Latvia.
Task Force Baltic Phoenix's iteration of the exercise began two weeks after their sister battalion, 2-10 Assault Helicopter Battalion, started in Romania. Colvin said that even in that short amount of time, they were able to share information and build upon what had already been accomplished to their south.
"A big part of being a fast-learning organization is identifying those areas that need improvement and taking positive steps to implement them," said Colvin. "It helped us save time by not trying to resolve problems that were already identified by 2-10, but rather, focus on areas that had not been improved previously. As a larger organization, this allows us to make incremental changes that, in the end, will expand into a better product."
The intent for Falcon's Talon is to test new tactics, techniques, and procedures that will allow Army Aviation to fight and win on a complex battlefield.
Once the aviators reached their hide sites, they teamed up with Latvian ground forces to secure the area, camouflage their aircraft, and use minimal communication to resupply and coordinate their future movements.
Diminished communications meant that platoon leaders and platoon sergeants, the junior leaders within a formation, must adapt and overcome any challenges and setbacks without direct guidance from those higher in their chain of command. The intentional disconnect in communication is one of strategic necessity. In a time when a cellphone's signal can be used to trace its user's location, the electronic imprint of a UH-60 Black Hawk or CH-47 Chinook helicopter must be carefully curtailed.
Colvin emphasized that the empowering of junior leaders for Falcon's Talon began early on with its lead planner, a pre-command captain, who jumped at the opportunity to work with NATO Allies.
"It was really exciting to integrate with the Latvian National Guard battalions," said Capt. Spencer Feliciano-Lyons, assistant operations officer for Task Force Baltic Phoenix. "The National Guard isn't just a military entity, it's a part of the local community. They were integral in helping us find suitable landing zones throughout their area of operations and, in some cases, even worked with private landowners to get access granted."
Feliciano-Lyons explained that the exercise was intentionally scheduled to occur over the weekend. This allowed the Latvian National Guard to be fully incorporated into the training. In doing so, the task force ensured that the Latvian Soldiers could bolster the exercise's training value by sharing their knowledge of ground security and local survival tactics.
"I think the exercise is a great opportunity for our two units to share our areas of expertise, combining our unit's knowledge in the air with their unit's capability on the ground," added Feliciano-Lyons.
Exercise Falcon's Talon will continue throughout the month of August with aerial gunneries slated, for multiple units in the brigade, across U.S. Army Europe's area of operations.