For the first time in five deployment cycles, all seven companies of Eagle Lift, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, trained together during a collaborative situational training exercise at Fort Campbell, which began July 16.
The week-long training event, which also included Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, resulted in Eagle Lift providing air assault support to more than 400 infantrymen from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, all the while assessing the readiness of its elements and their mission-essential tasks in this “crawl-phase” exercise.
“One portion of the objective is to assist the ‘Five-Oh-Deuce’ in the ability to upload and offload on aircraft formations,” said Staff Sgt. David Sanchez, an aviation operations noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 7th Bn., 101st Avn. “It also helps our crews to show them how to move [passengers] in and out of objectives very quickly.”
Company C, known as either Eagle Dustoff or Charlie Med, rejoined its sister companies for the battalion-wide training exercise. While the rest of the brigade was deployed, Dustoff Soldiers have been training with other units on Fort Campbell.
Sergeant Jeffery Miller, an aviation operations specialist with HHC, 7th Bn., 101st Avn., said brushing up on skills with an organic unit not only prevents Soldiering skills from getting rusty, but it builds a stronger team mindset than existed after five off-cycle deployments. Simulating casualties gave both battalions the opportunity to rehearse nine-line medevac procedures in the event of life-threatening emergencies in theater.
“This training seems very repetitive and very monotonous, but it has to be done with the understanding that we all get rusty, and [rehearsal] is very important,” Sanchez said.
With numerous moving pieces, from the top of the chain of command to the bottom, working as a team is crucial.
“We have a lot of moving pieces, new personnel who know each part is very integral, and we have to do it a specific way each time to make sure the training hits home,” said Sanchez.
And each cog in the clock requires its own planning in order to play its part.
While 1st Bn., 502nd Inf. Rgt., planned their own scenarios, Eagle Lift handled air activity, getting the troops out there, transporting troops from either the pickup zone or medevac scenario.
“For us, it was more ‘react to combat,’” said Staff Sgt. Justin Faucher, the intelligence noncommissioned officer in charge for 7th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt. “Basically, it was up to us from [the intelligence] perspective to develop the overall orientation of the environment.”
Much of what was rehearsed was based loosely on experiences gleaned from actual situations during Operation Enduring Freedom, he said.
During the last deployment cycle to Afghanistan, Eagle Lift worked with the Afghan National Army doing, among other things, cold-load training – with the engine off, Soldiers practice entering and exiting procedures from an aircraft.
“When you’re at a hot [landing zone],” Sanchez said, “you have to know the exact angles and the exact speed to jump out of an aircraft so you don’t get hit by its rotor wash, its exhaust, or, if you’re headed the wrong direction, the blade itself. So, they have to practice that.”
There is no such thing as too much practice when it comes to Soldier training. Rehearsals of theoretical scenarios prepare Soldiers for real-life situations when they deploy, Faucher said.
“As far as what they were doing today, it definitely goes hand-in-hand with daily operations downrange,” he said.
Having the motions down pat can mean the difference between life and death.
“When seconds matter on the ground, this is where it pays off,” Sanchez said. “This is where it meets it. When these guys jump out, whether they’re Pathfinders or ground troops, this becomes muscle memory for them.”