OPERATION KNOCK DOWN: National Guard aviators, special ops join forces
MCGREGOR RANGE, N.M. – The Texas National Guard’s 36th Combat Aviation Brigade joined members of the 19th Special Forces Group and the Air Force’s 204th Security Forces Squadron at a mock Afghanistan village here Sunday for a multifaceted training exercise that incorporated three kinds of aircraft, a direct-action raid, high-value target extraction and medical evacuation hoist operations.
The 36th CAB, of the 36th Infantry Division, used assets and personnel from two battalions for the exercise – 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment (General Support), and 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment (Attack/Reconnaissance). The 19th Special Forces Group is only one of two Special Forces groups in the National Guard. The 204th Security Forces Squadron, members of which joined the 19th in the raid, falls under the Texas Army National Guard.
Although the 36th CAB has several units either deployed or soon to be deployed, this exercise was part of the brigade’s annual training, according to Maj. Randall Stillinger, the executive officer for 2nd Bn., and gave units of the brigade a chance to train together.
“Any time we coordinate a large-scale operation like this, it requires a lot of complex, detailed planning,” said Stillinger. “As a brigade, we’re not always together. We’re spread out across the state, and very rarely do we have the opportunity to all get together in a very real-life scenario and execute large operations like this in preparation for overseas deployments.”
With UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters already in the sky, several CH-47 Chinook helicopters filled with Special Forces operators landed outside the village to start the scenario. With armed opposing forces, or OPFOR, spread throughout the village, the operators rushed in from several directions in unison. Apache crews conducted flyovers while the ground teams exchanged fire with the enemy – in this case with short-range training cartridges that made contact with their targets. Soldiers of the 36th CAB served as members of the OPFOR.
“We create camaraderie and esprit de corps and a sense of excitement in some of our young Soldiers who play that role because they’re getting to do something different and out of their lane, and they get to participate directly in the exercise,” said Maj. James Deal, the plans and operations officer-in-charge for 2nd Bn. “But the second piece to that is they get to see this operation happen around them. So the next time they’re sitting in a [tactical operations center] or refueling an aircraft, they have a better idea of what’s on the other end of this. It gives them a picture of what they’re working for.”
Deal, who was responsible for the vision and direction of the plan and for ensuring everyone involved had the resources they needed, said the training benefit was three-fold. The first was exercising a development of an operational plan while using the Military Decision Making Process, all within the constraints of the time and resources they had available to them and delivering it all to the Special Forces ground teams.
The second aim was to exercise their actual equipment, aircraft and vehicles, to “put those pieces on the ground and actually run through the exercise,” said Deal. The third, as with all Army training exercises, was to “look at what we did and see how we can improve” during the after-action review.
“I thought the exercise went very well,” said Deal. “From the plans and operational planning piece, we’re going to certainly find some things that we can improve on. We wouldn’t need to do this if we couldn’t improve.
“From the actual execution piece, I think the plan that was there was put into place very well,” Deal continued. “Execution took place exactly as we expected. Certainly there were some contingencies that we didn’t exercise that we could have. But for an intermediate-level type of training – to be able to come onto active duty for two weeks to already be at an intermediate level of training, I think we did outstanding. I think the exercise was outstanding.”
As ground teams finished their building-to-building sweeps, clearing rooms and engaging, capturing and killing enemies – including suspected high-value targets – they still had a problem: One of their team members had been hit and was in serious condition with a sucking chest wound. They needed to extract him as quickly as possible.
Outside the scenario itself, however, this was all part of the plan.
From the north a Black Hawk medevac helicopter approached while a paramedic dangled 20 feet below from a hoist. The pilot positioned the paramedic above a roof of a two-story building, where the injured Soldier was already being treated.
“The paramedic rode the hoist cable down to the victim on site, and my 18-D Special Forces medic had already initially given treatment, and then he did an injury-and-treatment handover to the paramedic, and at that point the paramedic loaded the injured servicemember and hoisted him up to the aircraft for medevac,” said Capt. Daniel Edwards, detachment commander for Operational Detachment Alpha 9132, C Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group.
Edwards said, from his perspective, the training “actually went flawlessly. I’m very pleased. I’ve got every confidence that if they can do that in training, they’ll be doing it in support of combat operations overseas.”
He added that the type of exercise the units completed together was no small task.
“I think there are always significant challenges when you’re dealing with significant air resources because they have to manage the space above and you have to manage the ground below, and then you have to figure out a way for those to happen in sync,” said Edwards.
Edwards said it’s rare and valuable to have the opportunity to incorporate Apache attack gunships on objectives for their exercises, and that his team was able to soak up the close air support training. Plus, he said, the terrain worked well for them.
“I have multiple experiences in Afghanistan,” said Edwards. “It’s very similar – same arid climate, desert climate – and it gives us very realistic training the opportunity to come out here and the effects that the weather and environment have on the aircraft and on our ability to conduct our operations.”
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