YAKIMA, Wash. (Feb. 4, 2013) -- Soldiers from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade improved mission readiness and responsiveness while working as a multifunctional aviation task force during collective crew training at Yakima Training Center.

The training, which began in early November and finished in late January, enabled the brigade's OH-58D Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopters, AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters and UH-60M Black Hawk utility and MedEvac helicopters to work together for the first time, ahead of supporting multiple brigade combat teams at the National Training Center, Calif., later this year.

According to Maj. Phil Mazingo, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, or CAB, operations officer, the transformation expanded task organization and training focus significantly.

"Fighting as a multifunctional aviation task force allows the commander to employ many different aircraft types to best support ground force objectives," said Mazingo.

When training in garrison, the 16th CAB's subordinate battalions are normally streamlined, with each unit focused on flying one specific type of helicopter. During collective crew training, known as CCT, the brigade established three separate aviation task forces, each of which trained and operated with all three aircraft. The incorporation of all three aircraft gave each task force the capabilities needed to capitalize on all possible mission sets.

"It was a new experience for me," said Lt. Col. Brian Watkins, 4-6 Attack Reconnaissance Squadron commander. "I am not new to task force operations but to be able to work directly with our brothers and sisters from 1-229 Attack Helicopter Battalion and 2-158 Assault Helicopter Battalion certainly increased the level of learning."

During each two-week CCT exercise, 16th CAB Soldiers trained on several major mission sets to include air assault, reconnaissance, security, and attack, quick reaction force, and MedEvac. Throughout CCT, task force commanders were required to develop creative solutions to accomplish doctrinal missions while taking on additional missions necessary to provide a variety of support to forces on the ground.

The training concept for CCT was inspired by the 16th CAB commander, Col. Rob Dickerson's previous deployment experience, and reflects the most current methods aviation units use to support operations in Afghanistan.

"The CCT was actually an idea I brought forward when I was a battalion commander," Dickerson said. "To go to [the National Training Center] and support a brigade combat team, you have to be at your best. Over the past 18 months, we had not yet trained collectively as a brigade; we modeled our training based on how we would fight during a deployment to Afghanistan and brought it to the [Yakima Training Center]."

Working as an aviation task force during CCT provided its own unique challenges for 16th CAB Soldiers. The integration of additional airframe capabilities created new and expanded missions for task force personnel, who were often required to cross-train on unfamiliar aircraft, techniques and procedures.

"Even for an intelligence analyst, working with each type of helicopter was good for us because Apaches have the ability to record footage, which was a new capability we were able to work with," said Pfc. Matthew Chapman, 2-158 AHB intelligence analyst.

Additionally, due to Yakima Training Center's rugged terrain and resulting isolation, CCT gave task force Soldiers the chance to operate in an environment similar to that of Afghanistan. The austere conditions helped to reinforce the importance of air-centric operations when supporting units in remote locations.

"The training allowed us to develop skills we wouldn't have received at the office," said Chapman.

For Dickerson, CCT's emphasis on creative problem-solving, unique task organization, cross-training, and mission support were all instrumental in maximizing brigade support capability ahead of 16th CAB's upcoming National Training Center missions.

"What we've found as aviators over the last 12 years is that in order to be successful in supporting the ground troops, we have to provide all of the different aircraft functions that an aviation task force is capable of," Dickerson said. "And with the conclusion of CCT, we are now well prepared for our [National Training Center] rotations."