By Ms Jennifer M Caprioli (Drum)September 29, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- While convoys and live-fire exercises are nothing out of the ordinary for Fort Drum, a training opportunity on post Thursday brought airmen, Marines and Soldiers together for a first-ever collaborative exercise.
Three Cobra helicopters, flown by Marines with Helicopter Marine Light Attack-773 squadron, hovered in the skies over Range 48 while a convoy of two Humvees, driven by Soldiers from 7th Engineer Battalion, surveyed the road for potential threats.
Airmen from New York Air National Guard's 174th Fighter Wing detachment helped out by bridging the gap between the sky and land, known as "air control."
The training, which was designed to make sure all entities are in sync, can best be described as "cross-branch training," explained Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Freitas, 642nd Engineer Company, 7th Engineer Battalion. "It's always key to make sure, communication-wise, it can work well between all the branches, and that's what we're doing today."
"We've done a lot of Air Force and Army (joint training) over the last few years, (but) this is the first time we have managed to coordinate the Marines to do some training with the attack helicopters, and they were willing to work with the 7th Engineer (Battalion)," explained Lt. Col. Alfred Tomaselli, who serves as NYANG's 174th Fighter Wing detachment commander at Range 48.
While it wasn't a real-life mission, the scenario -- designed to work out the "bugs" -- was similar to what Soldiers will experience during their deployment to Af-ghanistan, Freitas noted.
Lt. Col. Paul Fagan, HMLA-773 commander, added that the training also benefited their unit because it helped prepare them to work with other branches when they deploy.
"When we go overseas, we don't know who we're supporting on the ground. We're talking to Army folks and Air Force folks. It's really good to get up here and just practice the talkies and understand what we're doing," he said.
As in a real-life situation, the Cobras were essential in communicating with the ground convoy, alerting Soldiers of threats beyond their view. Marines also provided back-up by shooting at the "enemies" that were outside the Soldiers' range.
"Basically we're eyes-on to what they (Soldiers on the ground) can't see. We're like an (intelligence) report to them," Fagan explained.
He said the training was unique for his unit because Fort Drum provides a different type of topography, such as the trees and hills, than they're used to training on. HMLA-773 is based at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
"It's really cost-effective for us to come up here and still get the same training we could get in other places in the United States," Fagan added.
The only major issue the three branches could foresee was communication barriers.
"It's good practice to make sure that we're providing the information (the Marines) need so they can conduct their mission in helping (to) support us and vice versa," Freitas noted.
Although there are manuals av-ailable for joint military terminology, the commanders said they always foresee communication obstacles when working together.
"Overall, the biggest issues are language barriers between (the) services," Tomaselli explained, referring mostly to acronyms, which don't always have universal meaning across the services. "There's still a lot of Army language I (don't know)."
Tomaselli, who has been at Fort Drum since 2000, noted that the term "battle position," an Army term, means the same thing as "attack position," which is Marine lingo.
The exercise also allowed the branches to work through any confusion that might come through the radio, to make sure everyone responds correctly for future missions with other units.
"Most units have trouble just finding their required individual training for qualification," Tom-aselli said.
"We have the opportunity to combine some of their required training with other required training going on and conveniently get some interaction."
"Cross-branch training is very important. If we do have to utilize it, (then) it's something that we've already trained (for) and practiced, and we already know exactly how to do it," Freitas said.
While each branch had its own agenda for the exercise -- whether it was preparing for a deployment, adding a new realism to their training or obtaining cost-effective training above atypical topography -- they each came together to show that in a real-life situation they have each other's backs.