Saturday, December 05, 2009
We're close to finishing up at the mobilization station now. In November we completed our Mission Readiness Evaluation which involved a battalion air assault mission, more scenario training and briefings, a personnel recovery exercise and more gunnery (for those who had not yet completed all of the required exercises). The air assault mission was at night using night vision goggles where we put 10 helicopters into a relatively small LZ and inserted 90 troops in a simulated hostile area. This requires some coordination between flight companies to make sure the timing is right, but mostly the emphasis is on safety. Of the 90 troops most had never done an air assault, and many had never flown in a helicopter before. We spent some time with them before the flight to make sure they were familiar with what they needed to know and do, and mostly telling them to take their time. The exercise went flawlessly, even though the evaluators simulated a downed aircraft on the landing zone. This involved setting up security using some of the ground troops and sending our downed aircraft recovery team in who rigged the Blackhawk so it could be airlifted out by a CH-47 Chinook.
We didn't actually airlift it - once every thing was rigged and verified correct it was unrigged and flown back under its own power. Meanwhile we went in and recovered the troops we inserted, again all under NVG's and with no incidents. A good time was had by all. An aside to this mission was learning that a skunk has a three Blackhawk reaction time. As we were lining up to start the air assault we noticed a rather startled skunk trying to get out from under our rotor wash. As we passed over him the Chalk 2 (the second ship in line) saw him and applied a little power to mess with him a little. This caused the now annoyed skunk to do a face plant as he was blown over. Skunks being what they are this guy had enough and sprayed Chalk 3. Everyone (except Chalk 3) was pretty amused by this. We've since noticed a skunk hanging around the barracks, so we've decided it's the same one stalking the pilot of Chalk 2.
In the Personnel Recovery exercise each crew started in a helicopter out in the field and were given a scenario where they had been forced down and needed to move cross country to a pick up point. This exercise had us operating our survival radios, navigating, moving cross country in rough terrain occasionally encountering bad guys. This was quite frankly one of the best training exercises I've ever been in - the scenario was realistic and very little was simulated - we were even able to communicate with the real search and rescue people who monitor some of the high tech equipment we have. This is unusual since it involves using the real assets we would be dealing with in the middle east. While is was some what physical it managed to cover everything from combat operations to land navigation, communications, reacting to IED's, etc. It was also a nice workout.
Finally there were additional gunnery exercises for the people who had not yet qualified in all the required areas. Normally this is a timing issue more than anything else - while day firing can be done while in the training progression, you have to be fully qualified with NVG's before you can shoot with them, so we still had a couple of crew chiefs and gunners that needed the night portion.
The other big training push right now is "environmental" training, meaning desert operations and particularly dust landings and take offs. Our company was largely signed off on these already since we normally train in the Sunoran Desert. Some of the newer crewmwmbers in the company as well as the other two flight companies have been sending crews to New Mexico to get some practice in on the techniques.
With Thanksgiving we were allowed a short break to travel home and spend the weekend with family. A four day weekend followed that was all too short. It was great to spend some time with Her Accuracy. I also managed to get over to Quantum and get a flight in the R-22. It had been three months since I'd flown as a pilot so it was nice to see that while I was a little rusty, I hadn't forgotten anything. I plan to get flying in at every opportunity, the next of which will probably be during my R&R break sometime next year.
We flew back to Ft Sill that Sunday, and on arrival eight of us hopped in a van for the drive down to Ft Hood in Texas to attend a unit armorers school. This was a week long course covering maintenance and repair of small arms for the unit level. The course was pleasant and informative, and I was very impressed with Ft Hood. That's a proud installation and it shows, especially after all the exposure to training commands I've had lately.
We arrived back at Ft Sill after the course with very little left to do - some final work on the aircraft, a little currency flying, and final packing is all we have left to do.