By Sgt. Brandon LittleApril 2, 2008
CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Army News Service, April 2, 2008) - AH-64 Apache attack helicopter crews engaged more insurgents in Iraq during the final days of March than in the previous three months combined, according to Task Force XII officials.
There were at least 25 enemy engagements by TF XII aviators in the last two weeks of March, task force officials say, which resulted in more than 40 enemy combatants killed and numerous insurgents wounded.
TF XII supports Multi-National Division - Baghdad and is led by the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade from Ansbach, Germany.
"Enemy engagements used to happen about once every two weeks, but right now it's (several a day)," said Apache pilot Lt. Col. Todd Royar, commander of the 4th Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "These insurgent forces have decided to become more visible and more deliberate in their attacks."
Nearly all these Apache engagements have occurred as a result of either observing enemy activities while patrolling the Baghdad region or by responding to aerial support requests from ground forces.
"This is what we all expected, but the initial calmness when we got here took us by surprise," said Lt. Col. Charles Bowery Jr., TF XII executive officer and an Apache pilot.
The dramatic increase in violence was a little unexpected, added Bowery, but the number of attacks hasn't caught the pilots off guard.
"We have crews who are skilled (in handling these situations) and this is what they came here to do," he said. "Our individual (operations) tempo, or the number of hours each crew flies, has stayed relatively constant, so it has only been a little increase in frequency in which you fly."
Every qualified Apache pilot - including the task force commander and deputy commander - is flying more hours to shoulder some of the burden.
"Everyone's coping with the (increase in flying hours) well, but the most difficult thing to keep up with is maintenance," said Bowery.
Task force maintenance teams work day and night to keep the Apaches mission ready. It's a real challenge, but it's a job that must be done, said Spc. Tom Belew, an AH-64D Apache Longbow maintainer.
While the task force's aviators have been routinely successful in taking the fight to the enemy, it's a dangerous mission, and crews take special precautions when pursuing combatants.
"We're more aware of the threat (against us), and we're ensuring that we take actions to protect ourselves," said Bowery.
In addition, pilots must have positive identification of hostile actions and carefully apply rules of engagement before taking action.
"I am extremely proud of the fact that our pilots have exercised and applied ROE appropriately. We have not had a case where we have engaged where we should not have," said Royar. "Our role here is important because we help provide (ground units) with a third dimension. They can only see to the next corner; we can not only see to the next corner, but around the next corner and on top of it."
(Sgt. Brandon Little serves with the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs Office.)