CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea - Once every January, Soldiers of the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade treat onlookers to a rare and exhilarating display of rotary-wing aviation and firepower.
The annual gunnery produces a mind-numbing din of helicopter blades slicing through the cold winter air and blistering fire from AH-64D Apache Longbow aircraft.
While other 2nd CAB battalions provided assistance during gunnery, Soldiers of 4th Battalion (Attack), 2nd Aviation Regiment and 2nd Battalion (Assault), 2nd Aviation Regiment took the lead. Soldiers of 4-2nd Avn. blasted their way into the gunnery with the Apache helicopter at Rodriguez Range, the multi-purpose range complex near Pocheon, while 2-2nd Avn. kicked things off at Bisung Range near the city of Yangpyeong, flying the UH-60 Blackhawk.
For 2-2nd Avn., the annual gunnery qualifications started with live ground fire with the M240 machine gun in preparation for the aerial portion.
"Crew gunnery qualifications are designed to train and evaluate air crews and their ability to engage targets from the air," said Col. Joseph A. Bassani, the 2nd CAB commander. "But you have to prepare on the ground because of modifications to the weapon system."
In addition to allowing Soldiers to train with the M240 and the Blackhawk, the event allowed Soldiers to train with their systems amid realistic combat conditions- even simulated nuclear, biological, and chemical threats.
"The soldiers are required to qualify during the day with an NBC mask on and another time at night with NVGs and laser mounted weapons," said Maj. Darren Buss, the 2-2nd Avn. executive officer.
"The idea that you have to fly the aircraft and maintain situational awareness while responding to a threat and identifying targets is a real challenge," said Bassani.
Despite the intense training schedule, the 2nd CAB Soldiers also found time to help Republic Of Korea units understand the training for use downrange.
"This event is part of the Bisung Range land partnership program to use the range to get all of our crews qualified and help the 601st ROK Aviation Battalion prepare for their deployment to Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Mathew Lewis, the 2-2nd Avn. commander. "It has been great training for all the Soldiers involved and helps prepare them for engagements with the enemy."
This year's gunnery differed a bit from last year's.
"This is the new gunnery manual with some lessons learned from training in Iraq, including some high speed running fire," said Bassani. "The next gunnery event will build on this one so that we can do some air and ground integration to better support troops in contact. Our overall goal is to make sure everybody is qualified so that they can be prepared to do it in combat."
The 4-2nd Avn. Soldiers used the annual gunnery event as a chance to train and evaluate their aircrew's aptitude for attack helicopter operations.
"Our goal is to fire and qualify 20 aircrews on both the individual portions and 18 teams on team gunnery," said Lt. Col. Kevin L. Berry commanding officer of 4-2nd Avn. "Each aircrew is evaluated on 12 complex engagements using the 30-millimeter cannon, the 2.75 rockets, and the Hellfire point target weapon system."
Family members were invited to look on from a nearby watchtower as part of gunnery Family day as pilots from 4-2nd Avn. rocked the icy caverns at the MPRC range. The event hosted 96 Family members, who looked on as 4-2nd Avn. conducted a live-fire demonstration, and later participated in an engagement skills training portion, said Berry.
Despite the challenging nature of the event, "the training was very successful," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Craig D. Yerdon.
"Our Soldiers are remarkable at maintaining both our air and ground systems, and they prove it time and time again with our high operational readiness rates," said Berry.
Not only do the Soldiers have to compete with the helicopters, but they must also contend with the weather.
"It's amazing to see young Soldiers loading rockets in the middle of the night in freezing temperatures without a complaint," said Berry. "Their service and dedication to their mission always makes me proud to serve alongside these great heroes."