FORT HOOD, Texas -- Division West's 479th Field Artillery Brigade and 166th Aviation Brigade combined training efforts here Friday for two reserve component units that are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Company F, 1-169th General Support Aviation Battalion (Air Ambulance), an Army National Guard unit with Soldiers from Missouri, New York, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, provided medical evacuation support for simulated casualties sustained during a convoy operation conducted by the 311th Expeditionary Support Command, an Army Reserve unit from Los Angeles.
"It gives (the Soldiers) a visual preview" of what they may encounter in theater, said Sgt. 1st Class Angelica Erinna, a 479th Field Artillery Brigade observer controller/trainer. "Nothing is going to look exactly the same, but at least they have an idea of how to react if something similar happens.
"Not every Soldier gets the opportunity to call in a real 'bird' while in a training environment. That was one of the highlights today."
During last week's training, Soldiers in the 311th ESC's protective service detail traveled a convoy route in five Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles. Along the way, they had to carefully watch for potential threats such as improvised explosive devices, react to an actual simulated IED and small arms attack, and interact with role-played locals in a village.
"It was very helpful, as we'll be doing something similar (in theater)," said Spc. Jason Sim, an administrative specialist with the 311th ESC. "It gave me good insights into being in contact with the enemy and with locals."
A simulated IED attack toward the end of the convoy resulted in the 311th ESC suffering two simulated casualties, which gave the unit the opportunity to call for medical evacuation helicopters.
Often, real helicopters are not available to transport "casualties" from units training with Division West at Fort Hood, said Capt. Nathan Capestany, officer-in-charge of the 479th Field Artillery observer controller/trainers working with the 311th ESC. Usually, the training units simulate calling for help, protecting and marking a landing zone, and loading their "injured" Soldiers.
In this case, however, the Soldiers of Company F, 1-169th GSAB (AA) are training at Fort Hood with the 166th Aviation Brigade, and this is exactly the sort of mission they will be conducting in Afghanistan.
"I've been doing (this job) for quite a while, and I've seen multiple variations of how we conduct these particular events," Capestany said. "I like the way that we integrate outside support, especially bringing in the air assets.
"Everything that we can do to make it as realistic as possible is going to help them downrange. They need to understand fully what (assets are) available to them here, so that when they get downrange they are not afraid of reaching out and drawing on the same resources."
The training was a refresher for the 311th ESC Soldiers who have deployed previously, said Staff Sgt. George Lopez, a truck commander with the 311th ESC who has already deployed twice, once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. "It gives us a chance to share our experiences and give tips and shortcuts to our lower enlisted (Soldiers). Some of us learned the hard way."
Sim, who is deploying for the first time, appreciates serving with combat veterans such as Lopez.
"I have a very good NCO, so I really trust his leadership," Sim said. "He's been deployed before, and I think it's good he has that experience."