By Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public AffairsFebruary 19, 2010
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq - A CH-47D Chinook helicopter can transport 30 passengers and internally load up to 15,000 pounds of cargo. It doesn't require a landing strip, and there is virtually no operating location it can't service.
So when a unit moves troops or cargo, there is no surprise the twin engine, tandem-rotor aircraft is in high demand.
In United States Division-North that demand is being met by the Soldiers of Company B, Hillclimbers, 3-25th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Hammerhead - the only heavy lift aviation asset in USD-North.
According to Capt. Robert K. Beale, commander, Co. B, 3-25th GSAB, the Hillclimbers' mission is to provide heavy-lift, air assault and air movement capabilities for Task Force Marne.
"Our air assault mission involves moving Iraqi and American troops to objectives at a set time," said Capt. Beale. "As an aviation element, we support the ground force commander by putting Soldiers where they need to be, when they need to be there. But where we really 'make our money' so-to-speak, is with our air movement capability, our transportation of cargo. You name it, and [for the most part] we move it."
"I would estimate that 95 percent of our missions in USD-North this deployment are troop and cargo movements," said Chief Warrant Officer Three Fred Hedgecock, Chinook pilot, Co. B, 3-25th GSAB, a native of Bryant, Ark.
Since operations began in September 2009, the Hillclimbers have flown more than 3,200 hours, transported in excess of a 1,000,000 of cargo and moved about 10,000 military and civilian personnel. Cargo has ranged from explosive ordnance, disposal robots and dog food to military vehicles and ammunition.
The unit estimates that it will fly more than 8,000 hours, transport 1.6 million tons of cargo and move more than 40,000 Soldiers before it returns to home station at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, later this year.
"We're flying more than any previous heavy-lift unit because we're really the only 'game in town' in USD-North," said Capt. Beale. "We are also significantly involved in the [responsible drawdown] of U.S. forces, which requires us to launch more."
The only other aviation asset that can move the amount of pallets and passengers we do are [larger fixed-wing] aircraft, said Capt. Beale. But those require landing strips and can't access smaller [forward operating bases]. In that sense, the next best option would be to transport cargo and Soldiers by ground," he added Ground movement, however, is a less efficient and riskier alternative. For that reason, the Hillclimbers take pride in helping Soldiers avoid the heightened risks associated with ground travel.
"Helping move people by air is a mission that's more important than some people might realize," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Caraway, squad leader, Chinook mechanic and flight engineer, Co. B, 3-25th GSAB.
"I know the Soldiers we move want to go home as much as I do. If we can help them get there by keeping them out of range of a potential improvised explosive device [or other hazard], then we're making a difference," said the nine-year veteran and native of Houston.
"Before every mission, I conduct preventative inspections and maintenance of the helicopter, and get it ready for the pilots to conduct their pre-flight," said Spc. Brandon Poe, Chinook mechanic and crew chief, Co. B, 3-25th GSAB, from Beaumont, Texas.
"I take my job of properly maintaining our helicopters very seriously," said Spc. Poe. "We all do, and the reason is pretty simple; we're the ones that must continually serve those ground troops and others that need to move around northern Iraq. And we must do it safely."