Utah Guard's 2-211th Aviation

Hones their Skills at Fort Sill

 

By Hiro Chang

Fort Sill Cannoneer

 

Published May 6, 2008

 

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Members of the 2-211th Aviation train at Fort Sill, Okla., during a recent mission-readiness exercise.

Photo by Hiro Chang

Members of the 2-211th Aviation train at Fort Sill, Okla.,

during a recent mission-readiness exercise.

FORT SILL, Okla. — National Guard units from Utah and New Jersey were given the opportunity to adapt and overcome major obstacles for their deployment training.

The exercises were designed specifically to simulate their specific mission of escorting VIPs throughout Kuwait and Iraq.

"We'll be based in Kuwait, but our helicopter missions will cover southern Iraq, and the fixed-wing will go all over the Middle East," said Maj. Peter Adams, executive officer for Task Force 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation, or Task Force Ghost Rider as they are more affectionately known.

The battalion had to be augmented by the New Jersey Guardsmen specifically for this mission.

"All task forces have names, and we had a little competition to come up with the best task force name. We developed a united patch to promote espirit de corps," Adams said.

Adams also said the name would let the Soldiers know that there was no specific unit separation; they are all Ghost Riders.

Even with the moniker, there have been setbacks, albeit minor ones.

"At first it was a little difficult; they were a little shy," Pfc. Andrew Hernandez, of Salt Lake City, said.

According to Hernandez, the units first met in Utah for pre-deployment training.

"Most of the pilots seemed shy to me, and they're pilots, so they are mostly officers who won't talk to a low rank like me," Hernandez said.

Hernandez noted that, since then, the pilots have warmed up to his section, air traffic, even calling each other by nicknames or call signs, a military pilot tradition.

Sgt. Simon Debran, 2-211th Aviation, attempts to suppress fire to secure a landing zone during a grueling evasion-training mission at Fort Sill.

Photo by Hiro Chang

Sgt. Simon Debran, 2-211th Aviation, attempts to suppress fire to secure

a landing zone during a grueling evasion-training mission at Fort Sill.

"But I don't really have one yet," laughed Hernandez.

"We made it perfectly clear from the beginning that this will not be one of those 'them and us' relationships," Adams said.

The first major obstacle the unit had to negotiate was a mission-readiness exercise, MRX, which encompassed their mission in Kuwait.

"The whole purpose of this exercise was to rehearse a lot of drills," Adams said.

Their drills consisted of air evacuation, tactically avoiding engagements and emergency operations.

Trainers focused on throwing off the unit by making subtle but important changes to the unit's already-tight flight schedule, which caused them to work longer and harder.

"[During this MRX] they are probably cramming a month's worth of missions into a week just to put more pressure and stress on us," Adams said.

"We simulated that we were in Kuwait, and they threw anything they could at us," agreed Hernandez.

Escorting VIPs is challenging enough to schedule, let alone fly, in the dangerous skies that make up the war zones of Kuwait and southern Iraq.

Any slight deviation will throw the operation out of order, said Hernandez, who maintains communications and tracks flights for the pilots in the air.

"It's important," Hernandez said. "We are providing service for that VIP, or personnel or cargo which means someone else is depending on us."