By Spc. Monica K. Smith, 3rd CAB Public AffairsJune 25, 2009
Fort Stewart, Ga.- A Kiowa Warrior descends to the earth as dust and sand take to the sky, curling around the aircraft and enveloping it in a brown cloud. The image is striking in its symmetry; however, to the maintenance Soldiers, that's as far as the loveliness lasts.
"They fly at a low level and the sand blasts the blades," said Spc. Joseph Bailey, Troop F, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. "After each flight, you almost have to put a new coat of black paint on the blades."
Task Force Nighthawks was the third iteration of Falcon Focus, a training event at Camp McGregor, Fort Bliss, Texas in which the 3rd CAB sends each of their three battalions and one squadron as a task force. Each task force is outfitted with aircraft from the other battalions/squadrons, making the task forces homogeneous. However, though the Soldiers change from task force to task force, the aircraft remains for each task force to use.
"All four rotations fly a very high operational tempo with the same aircraft," said Capt. Matt Easley, commander of Troop F. "They've been flying more than a month and a half in an austere environment, but the training we're doing here cannot be replicated at Hunter in terms of high tempo and environment. So in order to take full advantage of our time here, we need to keep our aircraft as operationally ready as possible."
In addition to wanting to take advantage of training opportunities, maintenance Soldiers also have to be considerate of the fourth and final task force to arrive. After the Nighthawks complete their training, Task Force Brawler will arrive to use the same aircraft to conduct their Falcon Focus training. This requires the aircraft to be as prepared as possible, and in order to facilitate that goal, Soldiers worked in two 12-hour shifts, maintaining 24-hour operations to ensure aircraft were ready when needed.
"When we got here, there were two aircraft that were fully mission capable," said Capt. Easley. "Now we have four aircraft out of six working. We've made some major headway, replaced the tail boom, replaced parts. It's the same maintenance that we always do, just compressed into a smaller frame. Also, we want a good hand off from one rotation to the next so we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time or miss any maintenance issues."
Despite the hard work, Spc. Carlos Widbin, Troop A, 3/17 Cav., 3rd CAB, 3rd ID, says this time at Falcon Focus provides good training for maintenance Soldiers who have never deployed.
"The elevation out there is close to what it's going to be like when we deploy," said Spc. Widbin. "The air, the sand in your hair all day, the sun beating on you - it gives them an idea of what deployment is going to look like and how the task force is going to operate out there. We worked 12-hour days doing a lot of maintenance I haven't done in a long time or just haven't done. We worked our butts off, but it was good training."