FORT A.P. HILL, VA (SSG Terra Gatti) – With snow on the ground and temperatures holding just barely into the double digits, four Virginia National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, along with their crews and support personnel, trained with soldiers from the Fort Bragg-based Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) Jan. 22-28, 2014, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. The Virginia Guard soldiers came from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment and the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, and were on hand to provide aviation support to the training conducted by the special forces troops who are preparing for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“We were excited to get aviation assets because they’re sometimes very hard to get,” said Maj. A. Christian Sessoms, commander of the special forces troops from Company A. “I can’t say enough how easy it’s been to make coordinations and facilitate our training with the aviators.”
More than 30 Virginia Guard soldiers made the trek to Fort A.P. Hill working not only as crew on the Black Hawk helicopters, but also providing support to keep those helicopters flying. Soldiers from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment set up and operated a forward arming and refueling point, or FARP, at Fort A.P. Hill to aid in the efficient and tactical refueling of aircraft. Additional soldiers from the 224th also provided maintenance support for the aircraft as well as flight and mission tracking.
“There’s a lot more the SF or any unit can do with aviation assets,” said Sgt. Andrew David Noble, a crew chief with Company B, 2-224th. “Also, this gives us a more working knowledge of what’s going to happen in country if we deploy.”
The aviators worked with the special forces troops to conduct several air assault movements as well as hoist training and also worked through a downed aircraft scenario, creating a realistic training environment for the elite troops from the 3rd SFG.
“What they’re able to help us with is that real world piece,” explained Sessoms. “Actually and physically being able to load the aircraft, do the hoist training, all these things that we might have to do to complete a real world mission or to save one of our guy’s lives, being able to do that here in a controlled environment before going into theater is the difference between bringing everyone home and maybe not bringing everyone home. So it makes our guys that much more proficient for the mission aspect, and it makes us that much safer.”
The partnership began when the special forces unit contacted Fort A.P. Hill in advance of their training to inquire about aviation assets. Fort A.P. Hill connected them with a representative from the 224th and the two units began working together to develop a plan that effectively met the goals of both units.
“The lessons learned from a training event such as this proves to be invaluable, not only for the crews flying the helicopter, but also for the personnel tracking the flights as the aircraft performs missions, to those soldiers refueling the aircraft,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Mcmillion, commander of Company A, 2-224th.
During the joint training event, Virginia Guard helicopter crews spent more than 50 hours flying and transported approximately 180 passengers.
“The assets that we provide for these elite units who are deploying helps us to continue to be the premier, read, relevant and responsive force,” said Mcmillion.