By Sgt. Erica EarlAugust 29, 2019
NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria- U.S. Army Soldiers with the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, sat around a small fire they had built in the middle of the Bulgarian woods, feeding it kindling and discussing survival tactics for how they would all make it back to their base safely after a simulated helicopter crash.
It had been a busy week for the Soldiers of the 3-1 AHB. A few days prior, some of these Soldiers flew with paratroopers from the Bulgarian Special Forces, guiding their allies through high altitude jumps as they careened through the air on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Within the next few days, they would be situated behind M240H machine guns on a flying Black Hawk, testing their gunnery mastery as they engaged targets from the aircraft.
From August 19th through 30th, 2019, Soldiers from the 3-1 AHB conducted a dynamic variety of training exercises, including a bilateral paradrop, a personnel recovery training lane and aerial gunnery qualification tables, at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria. While these training events were separate rather than part of one singular exercise, many of the Soldiers participated in all, or a combination of, the events.
1st Lt. Hayden Fancher, a platoon leader for the 3-1 AHB, said this type of diverse, accumulative training involving simulations such as the helicopter crash scenario prepares Soldiers for practical application in the field.
"It is important because it not only builds the confidence of each Soldier, but it maintains their readiness if something like this were to ever happen," Fancher said. "It is one thing to say, 'This is how you make a fire,' in the classroom, but it's another thing for them to go build one themselves."
The training events allowed the Soldiers to practice versatility in a wide variety of skills from land navigation to tactical communication techniques to working alongside with and communicating with a NATO ally.
"The training builds a Soldier's confidence in their own abilities," said Fancher. "It's all stuff they are capable of. It's all stuff they are trained on. It's getting those repetitions and the practice that helps them become more aware of what they can actually do."
The training events included a visit from Col. Bryan Chivers, commander of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, who visited during the personnel recovery exercise.
"It's not just for training, I promise you," Chivers said of real-world application of the exercises. "You make sure you have different contingencies taken care of. This is great training and great team building."
The exercises focused on both individual Soldier development and working together as a unit and among their allies. It also gave Soldiers the opportunity to earn qualifications. Four crew chiefs and five pilots from the 3-1 AHB were qualified in conducting and guiding paradrop operations, and 20 crew chiefs and four pilots in command qualified in aerial gunnery tables one through six.
Soldiers from the 3-1 AHB said each training event came with its own unique challenge. For the paradrops, it was communicating with the Bulgarian Special Forces about safety and standard procedures for jumping nearly 7,000 feet from the Black Hawk. For personnel recovery, it was working together to stay calm and find solutions to get back to base from an unknown location. For aerial gunnery, it was coordination between pilots and crew chiefs for engaging a target from a moving aircraft.
Participants said overcoming these challenges helped them gain confidence in their ability to use the skills the Army has taught them.
"The teamwork was the most enjoyable part," said Pfc. Carly Peterman, a Soldier with the 3-1 AHB. "The safety officers were there to moderate, but they gave us a chance to be in charge, make decisions and come up with our own ideas."
The training also helped secure bonds among each other and their Bulgarian allies.
"It's all about taking the extra time to ensure good, thorough communication," said Sgt. Dylan Hauck, a standardization instructor with the 3-1 AHB. "Our whole rotation here is all about building relationships with our NATO allies and making those relationships stronger."