2/224th Aviation Battalion joins multi-services for Operation New Horizons

by Sgt. 1st Class Jo Hoots
GuardPost Staff Writer

Everyone gains from a deployment; even seasoned veterans who might have already "been there, done that." And with a challenging trip to Bolivia, the Vietnam and Desert Storm vets and the former active army folks who make up the 29th Infantry Division's 2/224th Aviation Battalion, took away plenty of lessons learned.

During last year's AT, members of the unit participated in "Operation New Horizons," a multiservice exercise in which host Central and South American nations participate with the U.S. in engineering projects throughout their countries. Last year marked the second summer for this exercise.

"It's a real different AT for us because, normally, we're doing air assaults, we're moving in the woods and we're lifting heavy artillery pieces. We're not doing anything that's of general benefit to the community other than training for future conflicts," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Hugh Adams. The Richmond native, a Guard member since 1973, continued, "This is our first really large-scale humanitarian mission."

The exercise, which ran from about the middle of May through the beginning of August, allowed the unit to send three helicoptors and three crews, rotating members through every two weeks for the duration of the summer. Adams, who described the exercise as a "relationship-building opportunity" with nations south of the U.S., described missions that ranged from transporting equipment used to build a school and drill two wells, to transporting South American VIPs so that they could "see what was actually going on and get a feel for what 'New Horizons' actually did for their areas."

The crews also transported medics to remote villages where they set up shop and handled "walk-ins" all day. The "walk-ins" were children, mothers, and other citizens with little access to medical care. Pilots also hauled generators, boxes, and food and water around the southeastern part of the country.
Adams, a Vietnam vet, said, "This is my third trip outside the United States with the military, and it's always interesting to see how lucky and how valuable what we have here is -- how other people live and exist without the conveniences that we have. This is the best thing I've ever done since I've been in the Guard. It was just so interesting. I was like a little kid before Christmas. Every day I'd get up early and say 'What can I see that I've never seen before?'"

Hughs described the mountainous terrain and the remoteness of the unit's southern location as challenging to work in during the day-to-day operations. "It wasn't anything like being in this country because there was no civilization there. There weren't any roads, towns or anything. You could go for fifty miles, and if your engine quit, you're in the middle of the bushes somewhere. You are definitely on your own."

Maj. Rob McMillin, Battalion S-3, described the deployment as a "tremendous training opportunity."
He said, "It was pretty austere in that there's no convenience stores or anything like that to pick up ancillary supplies. You've pretty much got what you brought with you. And we also dealt with a command structure that was unlike any others that we've dealt with."

In the multiservice exercise, the commander of the operations was an Air Force Colonel and his Executive Officer was a Marine Major. "This experience gave me a new insight in how the military works in the big picture versus how we normally operate working solely within the Army command," said McMillin.

He observed lessons learned included an attitude of self sufficiency that translated into care of equipment and intensive team building among unit members. With 18 to 20 people, McMillan observed, losing even one could significantly impact operations.

Although unit members witnessed extreme poverty among the citizens they came in contact with, they also noted extreme pride. "They were very, very proud people," said McMillin. "They didn't have the things we had, but they didn't necessarily think they weremissing anything."

The deployment not only was successful, but McMillin noted, the unit suffered no accidents and no serious injuries. "Everyone went down there with a tremendous sense of responsibility and acted accordingly," he summed up. And unit members who participated can chalk up one more successful mission to their list.