By Jason B. CutshawMarch 25, 2010
When 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers need support on the battlefield, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade sends its newest heavy lifter to supply them.
After returning from a yearlong deployment to Iraq in October, Soldiers of 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion recently received the Army's newest version of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter as they again prepare to deploy overseas at the end of the year. As they prepare to deploy, there will be an increase of training flights to familiarize Soldiers on their new aircraft.
"The volume of training missions is a little higher right now than it normally is," said Chief Warrant Office 2 Ben Degroot, CH-47 pilot with 3-10 GSAB. "The reason for that is we are training on the new CH-47F model, so the crews are learning a whole new aircraft.
"Another important thing to know about the volume of flights taking place right now is that Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield has more aircraft here than ever before. Not only are we doing a great deal of training on new aircraft, but we also have a larger volume of aircraft," he added. "Also, all of the training we have to accomplish has to take place on a compressed timeline, because the brigade is only home for a year, so we have to do more training in a shorter amount of time."
The Chinook is a twin-engine, tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter with a top speed of more than 175 mph. It can carry a payload of more than 21,000 pounds. Its primary roles include troop movement, artillery emplacement and battlefield resupply. It has a wide loading ramp at the rear of the fuselage and three external-cargo hooks.
"The main way to get supplies anywhere in Afghanistan is through the air, and the CH-47 is really the workforce of that effort," said Maj. Scott Butler, Task Force 3-10 operations officer. "It is a superb aircraft, and it carries a lot of cargo to help our Soldiers accomplish the mission at hand."
He also talked about upcoming training here and in Colorado, which will help simulate the mountainous terrain pilots and crews will encounter in Afghanistan.
"There is a lot of training we will have to go through to get our pilots and crew chiefs prepared for the upcoming mission," Butler added. "Although we may be pushing our crews now, it will be well worth it once we deploy."
In Afghanistan and Iraq, Chinooks are being used in air-assault missions, where they insert troops into fire bases and bring food, water and ammunition. The Chinook is particularly useful in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, where high altitudes and temperatures limit use of other helicopters.
As Soldiers became familiarized with sling loading operations, one instructor spoke about the importance of training and what it will mean when they arrive in distant lands.
"Every opportunity we have to learn here makes it easier when we get over there," said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Wolsifer, Company B, 3-10 GSAB standards instructor. "It may seem like a small task to others, but to the Soldiers in the field, what supplies we bring them during combat is huge.
"And every chance we have to train now helps ensure they get those supplies when they are needed," he added.
Although residents in surrounding communities may hear helicopters flying, they should note that military aircraft from Fort Drum follow all FAA rules about proper altitudes when flying.
"Being familiar with the systems and being familiar with how to operate is extremely important," Degroot said. "If we don't get the experience here and build the confidence that we need, then we are not going to be able to be as successful when we deploy.
"If someone in the community hears our aircraft flying overhead, I would request their patience for us," he added. "It is essential that we are doing this. I know we were gone for a while and now we are back flying. Please be patient with us, because we are getting ready to go back again."