By Tim Cherry, Belvoir EagleAugust 12, 2011
The Navy SEALs and Army joined forces in late July in a high-altitude low opening, or HALO, training exercise.
A Pennsylvania Army National Guard aviation unit manned a Shorts C-23 Sherpa aircraft, while a SEAL team made several skydives.
“We’re able to give them exactly what they wanted and they really appreciated it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Sager, Detachment 1, D Company, 126th Theatre Airplane Company, commander and pilot.
The HALO techniques are used for missions to prevent detection of the aircraft and the jumpers. Extreme accuracy is needed, since the parachutes are deployed at a low altitude. HALO normally involves special-forces parachutists jumping out of the aircraft around 25,000 feet and freefalling down to 3,500 feet. Plummeting at a terminal velocity of 126 mph, parachutists can descend this distance within two minutes. A HALO jump gets the jumper out of sight in a hurry, making them less vulnerable to dangers.
The jumps during these exercises were made from several altitudes, with 16,000 and 10,000 feet serving as the highest and lowest jump points, respectively.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Diane Ramirez, Operational Support Airlift Agency, branch chief and public affairs officer, said joint missions such as these are of great benefit to both the Navy and Army.
The SEALs used the opportunity to improve their HALO jumping skills and the Army uses it to give their pilots experience.
“The SEALs train for their mission and we train for ours; it’s a win-win,” said Col. Laurence Howl, OSAA commander. OSAA is the ARNG agency that oversees all ARNG fixed-wing aircraft.
A big part of what makes this particular mission possible is the Sherpa airplane.
Ramirez said the Navy SEALs view the Army’s, fixed-wing, cargo aircraft as having one of the best jumping platforms. Once opened, the rear cargo door exit in the plane allows for ample take-off space and a clear view of the plane’s surroundings.
“The (SEALs) love this aircraft,” said Sager, who has been flying the C-23 for 15 years.
Sager and his fellow ARNG Soldiers said joint-training operations such as these are also important because it shows the versatility of the aircraft, which is also used for cargo hauling and transporting personnel.
The Sherpa, which is being divested from the ARNG’s inventory, serves as the Army’s only fixed-wing aircraft for intra-theater cargo missions. In 2009, the secretary of defense directed the transfer of the C-27J, the C-23’s replacement aircraft, to the Air Force.
The aircraft is being studied to determine whether or not it still has a purpose in the Army.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jay Chandler, OSAA flight standard division, said the plane’s size gives it a niche in the Army as it can cost-effectively transport small quantities of cargo and passengers.
The fact that special operation forces groups, such as the Navy SEALs, request the plane for training operations is another positive element of the aircraft.
“Their special teams are anywhere from seven to 10 jumpers and the aircraft is the perfect size to give them the exact training the day they need it and as often as they need it, without tying up a larger aircraft,” said Chandler, who serves as a standardization officer for OSAA.
“People request us, people want us in theater,” said Sgt. Frank Earl Kiler, D/126, flight engineer. Kiler has worked on the Sherpa aircraft since 2009. He believes the aircraft’s versatility and service request make it a key asset to the ARNG.
“I’d hate to see this aircraft go,” Sager said. “I brought our particular detachment into existence back in 1995 and I’d like to see it stay long after I retire.”