The California Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, one of the oldest Chinook helicopter units in the Army, is no stranger to Afghanistan.
The unit deployed to Regional Command-East five years ago, and all of the unit’s pilots-in-command and flight engineers either were on that deployment or had previously deployed to Afghanistan while on active duty.
Although the unit from Stockton, Calif., has ample experience with Afghanistan, they recently mobilized to Fort Hood for the first time.
“It’s a lot different to deploy in the Guard than in active duty,” said the Schooner’s tactical operations officer, Chief Warrant Officer-3 Lucas Eggers.
Before mobilizing at Fort Hood to be trained by Division West’s 166th Aviation Brigade, the Schooners conducted three two-week training exercises focusing on pre-deployment training tasks at Camp Roberts in California. This enabled them to focus specifically on flight training in Texas. In fact, the group amassed more than 400 flight hours, including more than 150 hours of night flying, at Fort Hood.
Much of the Schooner’s flight preparations focused on both individual as well as collective flight training, particularly air assault missions. The focus on individual training was the result of two of their senior flight engineers, including their first sergeant, being unable to deploy because of medical reasons in the week prior to mobilization.
Despite the challenges, the Schooners rose to the occasion and quickly advanced several members of the team to fill out 12 fully mission-qualified crews.
First Sgt. Jeff Stanfield, who met the unit at Fort Hood one week after the rest of the unit, was glad to have the opportunity to assist the group. “Luckily, I’m already part of the family,” Stanfield said.
After several days of initial inprocessing and deployment readiness activities, the Schooners began their flight training with local area orientations and then began individual readiness level progression training, maximizing their training by supporting III Corps units.
In particular, the 166th Aviation Brigade arranged for them to support the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade, a civil affairs battalion that was conducting a deployment readiness certification, and two companies from 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, that were conducting company-level collective training in preparation for a deployment scheduled for next summer.
“The (1st Cavalry Division) mission was basically the typical mission set that we’re going to be doing once we’re overseas,” said Schooners platoon leader 1st Lt. Chase Ross. “We’ll pick them up and then we’ll drop them on another target. We’re practicing time-on-target, navigation, and talking on the radios.”
The Schooners also supported the 120th Infantry Brigade’s training of another deploying expeditionary force unit by conducting casualty evacuation operations, enabling soldiers in the Army Reserve’s 993rd Transportation Company to practice calling in medical evacuation requests and communicating with aircraft. This simultaneously enabled the Schooners to familiarize themselves with the special requirements involved with a Chinook helicopter casualty evacuation.