Story by 1LT Caleb Miller
On April 27, 2022, four CH-47 Chinook Helicopters from Bravo Company, 1-214 General Support Aviation Battalion, “BIG WINDY,” departed in the early morning. Crews were on their way to support the 82nd Airborne Division, 3rd BCT for their proficiency jumps, a training requirement for upcoming operations. Rewind 24 hours earlier, and one saw an intense sit-down meeting between Flight Planners, Jump Masters, and Commanders as they peered over products in preparation for the largest 82nd Airborne jump in Poland while supporting assurance and deterrence operations.
As the brief concluded and final adjustments were implemented for planning products, both command teams looked satisfied and excited. All knew they were ready to execute the upcoming mission. The Pilots, Flight Engineers, and Crew Chiefs from Big Windy went on to complete their final pre-flight checks on all aircraft and final inspection of the static lines hanging in their fleet of aircraft. Once satisfied, they ended their duty day, eager and excited to support an entire Battalion’s worth of Airborne Soldiers the next morning.
Early the next morning, as the sun peeked over the horizon, crews set off to their command tents for the morning briefs and rehearsals. After one last weather analysis, the Big Windy team climbed into their respective aircraft. After completing run-up checks, two 40,000-pound aircraft thundered their way out of the airfield and turned west to Bledowska Drop Zone. Thirty minutes later, the rotor wash of the chinooks greeted the eager 480 paratroopers from the 2P Panther Battalion as Big Windy landed in the drop zone. Without delay, paratroopers with static lines in hand, and parachutes on their backs, lumbered over to the Chinooks, taking their seats. Leading from the front, the Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major were the first to board, ready to begin. The jumps add to the unit’s mission of continued assurance and deterrence measures in Europe, which date back to their initial jumps into Italy during WWII in 1942.
Adding to historical relevance, the drop zone for the operation took place at the Bledow Desert proving grounds. Bledow proving grounds is a man-made desert dating back to its conception during the Middle Ages. It was inadvertently created when local miners diverted water sources to assist with the production of mines and aid with metal working. The byproduct of the diversion of water sources led to central Europe’s largest man-made desert. During the Second World War, the Bledow desert was used as a proving ground for Axis powers before the invasion of North Africa. Fast forward nearly a century later, and the Bledow training area continues to serve military purposes. However, in this century, it is used by NATO allies, enabling key jump areas for units as they continue to strengthen NATO alliances.
Six hours of flight time later, the “2 Panther Battalion” and their Division Commander, Major General LaNeve, successfully completed their airdrop operation in support of Assure and Deter operations in the European theater. As the last jumpers landed on the drop zone, the final Big Windy Aircraft turned east and headed home. Chief Warrant Officer 3, Brian Jenkins, the head Maintenance Test Pilot for Bravo Company, 1-214 General Support Aviation Battalion, lit the radios with his post-mission joy. “Team, that was by far the greatest airborne operation I have been a part of in my 11 years of flying! Task Force 82 All THE WAY, and Cougars UP TIGHT!”
The Big Windy team reveled with joy on the way home, knowing the size of the aircraft does matter when supporting a Battalion of troops.