By Staff Sgt. Alyn-Michael MacleodJanuary 28, 2010
One of the most experienced Army Reserve aviation battalions has once again been called upon in support of humanitarian relief.
This time, the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment "Longhorns," currently based out of Fort Hood, Texas, will report to Haiti in support of Operation Unified Response.
Task Force Longhorn is considered a general support aviation battalion that contains a headquarters and headquarters company, a maintenance company, a heavy-lift Chinook company, a medium-lift Blackhawk company and a Med-Evac company
The 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment is part of the 244th Aviation Brigade, 11th Aviation Command.
The 11th Aviation Command (AC) provides Air Traffic Services (ATS), Airfield Management, Aero medical Evacuation, Combat Aviation Brigade Reinforcement, Theater Aviation Support, and coordination of aviation staging and onward movement in order to support Corps, Army or Joint operations, making them a critical piece in a Humanitarian mission.
Scattered across Kansas and Texas, the Soldiers from the numerous units of the 11th Aviation Command have stepped up and volunteered to be part of Task Force Longhorn to assist the Haitians in this time of need.
Humanitarian missions in earthquake-stricken areas are nothing new to the Task Force commander, Lt. Col. Walter Bradley.
Bradley was a unit commander for Company B, 7-158th Aviation Regiment, from Olathe, Kansas, assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom in 2005. While enroute to Afghanistan, his aviation company was called upon to provide disaster relief after a powerful 7.6 earthquake struck Pakistan.
That earthquake, which resulted in over 86,000 deaths as well as an additional 70,000 injuries, left approximately 4 million homeless and gave the Task Force the experience needed for Operation Unified Response.
Bradley was quick to point out the differences in Operation Unified Response versus Operation Lifeline in Pakistan.
"When we went to Pakistan we had a major international airport that was totally functional and operational," Bradley said. "Down there (Haiti) I don't think we are going to have that... so the degree of being able to move personnel and cargo will be a unique challenge."
Being able to handle challenges is just part of the job with Task Force Longhorn; safety is also a main concern for the aviators.
"During the Pakistan mission over 7,700 hours were flown with no accidents," said Richard "Tank" Sherman, Executive Officer, 7-158th Aviation Regiment.
Even through Haiti seems like a stone's throw away, all of the task force still had to go through Soldier Readiness Processing at Fort Hood.
"They [Fort Hood] did a pretty good job for the number of people they had to process, "Bradley commented.
One more training step stands between Task Force Longhorn and its mission.
Prior to departure for Haiti, all of the flight crews will detour through Pensacola, Fla., for specialized over the water training.
"This training will teach the flight crews how to react to the possible submersion of an aircraft," said Master Sgt. Michael Mendoza, S-3 Operations NCOIC for the 7-158th Aviation Regiment.
Command Sgt Maj. Sammy C. Sablan, was quick to point out that although highly trained and proficient in their skills, the task did not represent just another training event for his Soldiers.
"Our assistance reflects our nation's compassion and commitment to those impacted by this earthquake in Haiti," explained Sablan. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people and all those affected by this devastating earthquake."