By Emily Brainard, Army Flier staffApril 29, 2010
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- CH-47 Chinook pilots dropped off dozens of warrant officer candidates at Tactical Training Base Freedom April 27 as part of the new "WOC Freedom" joint training effort.
The budding exercise is conducted by Flight School XXI instructors, Chinook student-pilots and Warrant Officer Candidates.
"They're getting real-world experience. This is how the mission is (in Iraq and Afghanistan). This is as real as we can make it," said CW4 Sam Baker, B Company, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment executive officer.
WOC classes act as infantry-like units, allowing student-pilots to plan picking up, transporting and dropping off troops, Baker said. This simulates what pilots will be performing in combat as well as allowing WOCs to maneuver around post to get to their necessary training locations.
Instructors flew the mission earlier this week that students helped plan and will soon take over flying the missions themselves, Baker noted.
A week's worth of planning, coordination and meetings takes place leading up to the actual mission execution, he said. WOCs explain to flight school students what support their classes require, and student-pilots determine how to best conduct it. Because of the detailed planning required, all parties involved gain leadership and tactical experience, Baker said.
"We try to give them the best support possible," he said.
Every Chinook student-pilot will participate in these future missions. Training is scheduled to be conducted within the first month of each CH-47 FSXII course, Baker said. Students must still maintain regular academics and flight time during the weeklong segment. This adds extra responsibilities on students because another unit is counting on them to make training a success.
Some Warrant Officer Career College instructors said they find this up-and-coming training useful to their candidates and are grateful for its implementation.
"In a combat environment, your main mode of transportation is air, especially in Afghanistan. (WOC Freedom) incorporates the real-world environment into training. You should train as you fight," said CW3 Michael Noerr, a WOCS training, advising and counseling officer.
He noted every candidate will be going through the joint training exercise during their third or fifth weeks here, depending on which warrant officer course they're attending.
After WOC class 10-13 members were dropped off at TTB Freedom Tuesday, they began their weeklong field training exercise, including warrior tasks, battle drills, urban operations and more, according to class historian WOC Karl Kelly, from Ewing, N.J. He said he believes the combined effort benefits everyone involved.
"It's an excellent operation for flight school students and warrant officer candidates," Kelly said. "It gives pilots a chance to participate in live training exercises using candidates. For candidates, it provides a jump into leadership and breaks up regular training."
As a former sergeant and UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief, WOC Dallas Garza, from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., said he was especially excited to work with the student-pilots. He plans to attend flight school after graduation and said the joint training helps him integrate into life here. He assisted with the coordination and organization of the exercise for his class.
"It's a good feeling to know I'm giving them this learning experience," he said. "This is how we fight today. It's a great way to learn and train how we fight."
Transforming from a noncommissioned officer to warrant officer gives Garza new responsibilities, which he said he eagerly awaits. He added this training helps him prepare for his upcoming leadership roles.
"As a crew chief, I followed orders," he said. "Now, as a (future) warrant officer, I implement (plans) as a leader."
WOC Katrina Jones, from Pennington, Ala., said she appreciated the training because she works in human resources and doesn't often get to interact with pilots or perform on-the-ground training. Field training helps her brush up on skills she doesn't use frequently.
"It's preparing us if we go out to war," she said. "Now we know the techniques. If (certain situations) come across us again, I can help someone else who's never done it before."