224th Aviation completes NTC rotation

by Maj. Tom Wilkinson
State Public Affairs Officer

The 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation from Sandston, learned firsthand about the nuances of desert life, as they returned from a three-week rotation to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California.
"I think this is money very well spent for training," said Maj. Paul Smith, the battalion commander. "If we can apply one-tenth of what we have learned, it will be well worth it."

This is the first time this unit has operated at a National Training Center as the Blue Force (BLUEFOR), or friendly unit. Habitually, Guard units train at the centers as Opposing Forces (OPFOR), supplementing the active duty units to help round out the training. Few Virginia units have ever had the opportunity to work with other active duty BLUEFOR units. BLUEFOR units rotate to the training centers about every 18 months to train on their mission essential tasks and hone their war fighting skills.

For Task Force Beast, a.k.a. 2/224th Aviation, the weather and the missions were a golden opportunity. With 11 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in their arsenal, they performed a viable, real-world mission for their supported units.

"We worked for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team from Fort Riley, Kansas," said Capt. Jim Ring, the battalion assistant operations officer. "We performed scout insertions, troop insertions, casualty evacuation and aerial resupply. It has been a great learning experience."

"We did good," said Command Sgt. Maj. Benny Dancy, the battalion Sgt. Maj. "The NTC is a great training environment. This is the type of training that we need to focus on, because if you cannot do the basic things, you cannot function."

With 11 helicopters flying night missions at 25-to-100 feet off the ground, comes safety and logistical problems.

"We were very safety conscious," said Chief Warrant Officer David McEwen, the chief of petroleum, oil and lubricants section.

"We had 32 maintenance people," said Warrant Officer James Ford, the aircraft maintenance technician. "We were pretty lucky in that we did not really have many maintenance missions. We expected to fly a lot more missions than we did, but the helicopters performed great in this environment.

Just as in war, things do not always go according to plan.

"We had the whole platoon shot down," said Chief Warrant Officer Joe Puckett. "We were flying a night insertion and just flew into a hornet's nest of air defense. We were taking fire from virtually every direction."

Upon being "shot down," the pilots land their aircraft and open an envelope they are given. The contents of the envelope tell them what to do, and what status of wounds are sustained by all aboard the aircraft.

"It's a great learning experience," said Chief Warrant Officer Delmar Kidd, the maintenance test pilot. "If we focus and learn from our mistakes, it only makes us that much better the next time."