FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 13, 2013) -- A training day months in the making finally arrived at Ranger School last week.

March 7 was the first time Ranger School and the Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala., executed a joint training exercise. It was part of larger collaboration efforts between the Maneuver Center of Excellence and the Aviation, Fires, Intelligence, and Maneuver Support centers of excellence that have been in the works since November 2012. Leaders from the centers of excellence met here in December and January to determine concrete ways they could work together to support each other's training efforts, and integrating AVCOE support into Ranger School was one of the key items they identified.

"We're talking about ways in which we can collaborate better amongst the centers of excellence to get the maximum capabilities and best training and education for our leaders and Soldiers," said Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, commanding general of the AVCOE during a collaboration meeting here in January. "We'll all get mutual benefit in this effort."

In last week's exercise, initial entry rotary wing pilots, or those who are learning to specialize in flying specific rotary wing aircraft, used Chinook helicopters to insert Ranger students from one landing zone at Camp Darby into another, where they then carried out a mission they had planned earlier that day. While Ranger School has been working with Flight Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, on Fort Benning to carry out the exercise with Blackhawk helicopters, working with Fort Rucker provides expanded training opportunities for both parties, said Maj. Kenneth Bath, operations officer for the 4th Ranger Training Brigade.

"I think the collaboration is a great idea," Bath said. "It provides us aircraft to conduct our mission, but it also provides the Aviation Center of Excellence with a mission that they can fly with their students for their training. Especially in these fiscal times, this is an excellent opportunity for both centers of excellence to support each other's missions."

The exercise took place in the students' second week of Ranger School and was their first graded patrol. Squads of students worked together to create an operations order for a patrol, which designated student leaders then briefed to their squads. Part of their task was to incorporate the air elements into their planning, Bath said.

"It adds an element of realism both in executing it and in planning -- they have to plan who's going to sit where, how to get on the aircraft, what they're going to do when they exit the aircraft," Bath said. "It goes into the leadership and planning side of it, but it's also an additional skill set they're taking from Ranger School. So when they're leading Soldiers in combat, it won't be the first time they've ever gotten on a helicopter."

Staff Sgt. Kirk Devereaux, a Ranger student from C Company who participated in the exercise and has served in combat, said he thought doing the exercise with the pilots from Fort Rucker helped make the training more realistic.

"It gives the guys a real feel for how it's going to be downrange -- that nervous feeling that you get on a helicopter before a mission," he said.