By 2nd Lt. Alun Thomas, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. PAONovember 2, 2011
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHINDAND, Afghanistan -- Providing constant aerial support can sometimes be an arduous task, as flight crews, medics and maintainers must be fully vigilant and aware while protecting the skies and ground below 24 hours a day.
This has been the mission for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade over the last eight years in Iraq and now Afghanistan, with this proud tradition continuing to be upheld by Task Force Spearhead of the 1st ACB as they are the only active duty aviation unit in Regional Command West conducting full spectrum operations.
The myriad of tasks provided by TF Spearhead is something to be proud of, said Lt. Col. Blake Alexander, from San Antonio, commander, TF Spearhead, 1st ACB, 1st Cavalry Division, as they work tirelessly supporting their coalition counterparts in various ways.
"We cover all of RC-West, all the way down from the north sector down south to the Farah province," Alexander said. "We fly all the medevacs that work for RC-West, all the heavy-lift and air-assault capabilities for special operations and for conventional units … which include convoy coverage and troops in contact."
The number of ground forces TF Spearhead protects is a vast amount, Alexander said, as it encompasses a large area.
"The main U.S. force we support is Task Force Warhorse located out of Camp Stone … and of course we work for the RC-West commander, who is an Italian brigadier general," he continued. "We support their special ops and aviation mission. It's been an awesome experience [working for the Italians], especially for those who have never had the opportunity to work with anyone outside of the U.S. Army."
The partnership with the Italians has been educational for both sides, with both learning from each other and forming a good relationship, Alexander said.
"The Italians command just changed out in September, so with their transition we sent our Apaches out to each location to do an air-ground integration brief so we could get everyone baselined on the same standards," Alexander said. "We wanted them to know how to use us to their best capability."
However there have been challenges for TF Spearhead, Alexander said, but he feels they have been met so far, despite the obstacles.
"The high-altitude training we did before we came here really set us up for success, because of the high-altitude and wind in the mountains," he said. "The only thing we've really had an issue with is getting parts this far out West. The way Afghanistan is structured means parts go from Bagram to Kandahar and now Mazar-e Sharif."
"It really takes interaction with our Brigade to ensure we get those critical aviation parts in a timely fashion to keep our aircraft up and running," Alexander said.
Keeping the aircraft operational has been a non-stop task over the first quarter of the deployment, said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Brown, from Muskogee, Okla., production control noncommissioned officer in charge, Delta Company, TF Spearhead, due to the relentless mission.
"Our [operational] tempo goes off the hours flown and we've just had a bit of a slowdown after an initial surge," Brown said. "One month we nearly flew 2000 hours and we've spent 130 hours on each airframe, which is a significant number."
This leaves little room for errors in scheduling and completing phase maintenance, Brown continued, as delays would mean leaving insufficient amounts of aircraft for mission needs.
"The more we fly, the faster inspections come around, and you have to manage their flow, so it's a challenge to keep the aircraft numbers available to meet the missions," he said. "Next thing you know if you're not managing this correctly you suddenly don't have enough aircraft flying."
This problem is averted by the sheer hard work of all the mechanics and maintainers who work tirelessly on the aircraft, Brown said, making them the reason TF Spearhead is able to maintain their presence in the air a continual sight.
"What keeps these aircraft flying are the Soldiers here doing the maintenance, the E-1's to E-6's that are turning the wrenches. That's the only reason. The hard work of these Soldiers," he added.
"Hands down our mission is accomplished by them," he said.