Soldiers from the Detachment 1, Company C, 3rd Battalion, of the 142nd Aviation Regiment of the Maine Army National Guard travelled to Canadian Forces Base, Gagetown, N.B., this August for their annual training.
The 142nd specializes in running air assault operations with their Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
“We make our money putting troops on target to facilitate the ground commanders,” said CWO 3 Abel Gleason, a pilot in command of one of the unit’s helicopters. “They give us a time they want troops to be there, a method of insertion, where they want to be and why. We make all that happen.”
Before doing any of these operations, the unit has to re-familiarize themselves with an M240B automatic machine gun variant, the M240H, and then qualify on the weapons system. The M240H is designed to be easily transferred from a helicopter mounted position to a hand carried asset.
“In order to provide safe transit through hostile areas we need to effectively provide fire using the M240B out of the aircraft doors,” said Gleason.
The unit does not get an opportunity to train on these weapons systems very often as they need an extremely extensive range.
While pilots fly the helicopters, crew chiefs like Sgt Brandon Dugay operate the weapons systems and are responsible for everyone’s safety onboard the aircraft.
“The training is hands on, it’s going from start to finish,” said Dugay. “From boarding the helicopter on the ground to going through the gunnery tables to landing the helicopter and shutting it down.”
Dugay is not only a crew chief; he is also a standardizations instructor. He cares a lot about the safety and standard operating procedures of the unit.
“My favourite part of the job is ensuring the safety of the soldiers and letting them get familiar with the weapons and getting crew coordination.”
This week the 142nd is also working with the 251st Engineer Company (Sapper) to practice aerial insertions and pick-ups they might use in a combat environment. In such an environment the 142nd would be working as an asset for combat units and could be called upon at any time to assist in a mission.
“It’s a win for both units involved, they getting the same value added training we are by being here,” said Gleason.
The 251st is an example of a ground force that the 142nd could interact with in a combat environment, ensuring their safe arrival at strategic locations.
“The Sappers are very much a unit we would work with overseas. What may take four hours to traverse by ground we can traverse in 45 minutes to an hour in the air,” said Gleason. “And, we can do it without roadside bombs or broken equipment being a threat.”
The troop insertion and pick up exercises are valuable training for both companies to practice as much as possible.
In a combat environment, soldiers on the ground need to know there are plans in place for their movement and what they look like.
“There’s always a plan in place, we’re going to communicate with the commanders and the noncommissioned officers of the Sapper unit to know what it is that they want and how it is that we can make that happen,” said Gleason.
Gleason knows the importance of training with other units in realistic conditions, especially for the less experienced pilots, and crew chiefs in the 142nd.
“For a lot of the guys we have here today, this is training that will form the foundation for what they will do the rest of their career,” said Gleason. “This is a very good simulation of how we would be operating in a forward area.”
This training opportunity is extremely important to have before heading into a real life scenario due to the lowered risks of the situation.
“Once we start, it’s going to be fast-paced, but it’s also going to be slow enough that the training, will be done correctly,” said Dugay. “Safety is key for crewmembers on the helicopter, personnel on the ground, and any troops in the surrounding area.”
All members of the crew are responsible for being constantly vigilant of any safety risks that may arise. Together as a team they have eyes on all parts of the aircraft and the surrounding area at all times.
“We’re building real time experience without anyone’s lives being on the line, and for us, that’s invaluable,” said Gleason.