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Soldiers are shown on a mission with a CH-47D Chinook helicopter. When soldiers with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade deploy to Afghanistan in coming months, they will go with the newer CH-47F model.
Training on the fly
Earlier-than-expected deployment forces aviators to adjust priorities
By Gina Cavallaro
The Pentagon’s decision to send the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade to Afghanistan this spring, about four months earlier than the brigade expected, means that some air crews will not be fully trained when they leave Fort Bragg, N.C., by June.
Brigade commander Col. Paul Bricker said some crews will have to continue training when they get on the ground in Afghanistan because it is an environment that is hard to replicate for training at Fort Bragg.
But, he said, some of the pilots and crews he has now have already been trained on the CH47F, and he’s counting on some of the soldiers’ recent Afghanistan experience to bring the others along.
“This is an acceleration of the timeline and it’s requiring us to look at our training, manning and equipping and say, ‘OK, we’ve got less time, so let’s reprioritize and see what we can do,’ “ Bricker said. The 82nd Airborne Division’s aviation units have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan almost non-stop since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
This deployment will mark the first time the brigade will deploy in its entire modular formation, and it will be the first time that the Afghanistan theater will have two aviation brigades operating simultaneously.
The other brigade is the 101st Airborne Division’s 159th Aviation Brigade, which deployed in November from Fort Campbell, Ky.
Some of Bricker’s soldiers will have had slightly more than a year’s time at home, or dwell time, when they deploy this spring. Some of his other units have already been home for at least 20 months.
“Three of the battalions in the brigade just returned from Afghanistan in February, and those organizations, the Black Hawk and Chinook aviators and aviation maintainers, will be huge risk mitigators because they’ve got recent experience,” Bricker said.
The AH-46 Apache and OH-58 Kiowa units, on the other hand, returned from Iraq more than 20 months ago, so they will also undergo additional training for the Afghanistan deployment.
One of the most immediate challenges will be getting soldiers up to speed on the CH-47F Chinook, the latest model of the Army’s workhorse helicopter, which is loaded with new digital navigation systems, computers, avionics and a flight control system that allows the helicopter to “land all the way to the ground in total brownout conditions,” Bricker said.
The brigade is in the process of taking delivery of its 12 new Chinooks and, to help speed up the learning curve, the Army has sent the brigade a few of the new heavy-lift helicopters for pre-deployment training and a few instructors and training pilots from the Aviation Warfighting Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.
“We’re getting some crew members coming in that are already Fmodel qualified, and we will con tinue to train until they’re fully mission qualified,” he said.
The deployment of the 82nd Airborne Division unit signals the start of a buildup of combat forces in Afghanistan, where a greater number of support enablers, such as aviation assets, will be needed.
Gates has said he will make up to three more brigade combat teams available to go to Afghanistan.
Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, has asked for 20,000 more troops to combat the escalating violence in eastern and southern Afghanistan. Comments by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicate an even higher number could be sent by summer.
The Chinook helicopters would address a key need in Afghanistan for medical evacuation, troop movement and logistics aircraft.
There are currently 31,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 with the NATO-led coalition and 17,000 fighting insurgents and training Afghan forces.
When the additional forces requested by McKiernan are in place, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will climb to more than 50,000.