05 October 2012

Iowa 'Red Bull' Soldiers Practice Air-Assault Skills

By Staff Sgt. Chad Nelson
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division Public Affairs

Iowa Army National Guard

On a warm, late-summer day within the confines of the Camp Dodge Joint Maneuver Training Center near Des Moines, Iowa, three UH-60 "Black Hawk" helicopters repeatedly disappear below the tree line and just as quickly reappear with 600-pound boxes dangling from their bellies.

Iowa Army National Guard 
photo by Staff Sgt. Chad D. Nelson
The Black Hawks, piloted and staffed by the “assault company,” of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation Battalion (2-147th Aviation), were flying in support of the “Red Bulls,” of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division’s (2-34th BCT) regular monthly training.

With the 2-34th BCT’s 2013 two weeks' of annual active-duty training still nine months away, this exercise is laying the groundwork for a large-scale operation spanning three locations across the Midwest: Camp Dodge, Iowa; Camp Ripley, Minn.; and Camp Gurnsey, Wyo.

The Red Bull units, having returned from Afghanistan in July and August 2011, have been in the "reset" phase of the Army force generation scheme ("ARFORGEN") cycle. The ARFORGEN model ensures that units are optimally ready for deployment every five years.

Reset allows soldiers who just returned from a deployment to return to and reconnect with their families, friends, and civilian employers. Soldiers also slowly return to their regular monthly drilling schedule. With the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2012 however, the brigade will begin focusing on individual and small-unit skills. In later years, those skills will feed into operations involving larger-sized units.

The brigade’s recent exercise focused on the basic skills necessary to plan and conduct offensive operations using helicopter-borne "air assaults," said Lt. Col. Tim Sulzner, the brigade operations officer.

In March 2011, the 2-34th BCT conducted "Operation Bull Whip," the largest air-assault in Afghanistan in the 2010-2011 deployment cycle. Skills are perishable, however, particularly as soldiers promote and transfer to new positions within the 3,000-member brigade.

The recent training began at the top, with the company commanders and first sergeants from the brigade’s 36 companies earning validation in air-assault and sling-load operations.

“We incorporated every commander,” said Sulzner. “They may at some point become [operations officers at higher-level units, whether battalion or brigade] and they have to know how all this works.”

The S3, or "training and operations" section, is critical in large-scale operations such as this. Not only do they schedule and monitor training within their unit and subordinate units, they also plan and schedule major movements.

According to Lt. Col. Don Atchison, commander of the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.), headquartered in Council Bluffs, Iowa, there’s another valuable reason for providing this training first to the company leadership: “We need to validate our company leaders so they can go back and train their people,” he said. “We need to make sure they know what they’re doing.”

1st Sgt. Anthony Gibson, left, and Capt. Patrick 
Swartzendruber, the first sergeant and commander 
of Foxtrot Company, 334th Brigade Support Battalion,
run out of the rotor wash of a UH-60 "Black Hawk" helicopter
after attaching an external load. Iowa Army National Guard 
photo by Staff Sgt. Chad D. Nelson.
In the recent training, 72 commanders and first sergeants gathered to review brigade’s new live-fire procedures, developed squad mounted/dismounted live-fire lanes, and received instruction on plan air-assault training for their units. The latter included validation of "sling-load" skills: Rigging external loads to be hooked and transported by helicopter.

The soldiers operated two at a time, with one connecting the load and the other standing by to pull the first to safety in case of an emergency. “The leadership will have [noncommissioned officer and officer professional development classes] with their platoon leadership,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Willie L. Adams, senior enlisted leader for 2-34th BCT, and a Black Hawk sling-loader.

He said the platoon leaders would practice—with or without Black Hawks—until they’re confident enough to train their squad leaders themselves.

Motivation was high as soldiers ran to board the helicopters, sprinting away as the aircraft took off. “They did an outstanding job and these were really good events,” said Maj. James F. Avrams, Missouri Valley, Iowa, operations officer for 1-168th Inf.

“I thought that it was definitely a good opportunity to do some things that most of us haven’t done before. I think that it was really overall good training,” said Capt. Matthew Parrino, Urbandale, Iowa, commander of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry (1-133rd Inf.).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.