FORT DRUM, N.Y. – New York Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation, honed their marksmanship skills on the range and in the air during unit annual training.
The 218 Soldiers began two weeks of annual training April 23 as they prepared to deploy to Fort Hood, Texas, and then Kuwait in June to support U.S. Central Command. Training teams from Fort Hood were there to help the New York National Guard troops train more effectively.
The training validates many of the pre-deployment tasks, said Col. Jason Lefton, the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade commander.
Soldiers trained with their individual M4s, M17 pistols, M246 squad automatic weapons, and M320 grenade launchers. They also trained on crew-served weapons; the M-2 .50 caliber machine gun, Mark 19 grenade launcher and the M240B machine gun.
The highlight of the training was when door gunners engaged targets on the ground with the M240B from a hovering UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
Lefton, who is a former battalion commander for the unit, had nothing but praise for the Soldiers.
“Most years, I need to step in here and there and make some changes, or nudge things along during the preparation and planning for a large event like this,” Lefton said. “This year, that wasn’t the case. I couldn’t be prouder of you all.”
Soldiers built toward firing live ammunition by training in the Engagement Skills Trainer first.
The recoil is simulated with an air hose that connects to the weapon and an air compressor on this electronic indoor range. Soldiers must engage targets that appear on a large screen at the other end of the room.
Soldiers’ aim is tracked in real-time by a computer so an expert present on each range can coach them. The simulator lets Soldiers practice the basics of marksmanship before firing live ammunition on the range or from a UH-60 in the air.
The annual event takes a lot of planning, said Master Sgt. Christopher Bullock, the battalion’s operations noncommissioned officer.
”The Soldiers need to be fed and housed, helicopters and vehicles must be fueled and maintained, ammo and weapons must be provided, and much more,” he said.
This year came with a new set of challenges due to the pandemic.
“We got the go-ahead to do the training around Thanksgiving, which is later than usual, and it is taking place in April and May, which is earlier than usual, so we were working with a compressed timeline,” Bullock explained. “But, as usual, everyone in this unit stepped up and made it happen, and everything has come together nicely. Now we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
Along with practicing marksmanship, Soldiers took combat lifesaver classes, trained to counter improvised explosive devices and learned hand-to-hand combat. They also conducted water egress training in a pool, focusing on how to get out of a crashed vehicle.
Pfc. Dennis Kaydanov, a helicopter mechanic, liked the training because he got to do things outside of his daily routine.
“I really enjoyed the hand-to-hand combat training,” Kaydanov said. “I also like the combat lifesaver course, and I think it’s really important to keep those basic medical skills fresh in your mind because you never know when you might need them.”