Story and photos by Devin Fisher
It may take some time for the “Gunfighters” to settle into their new homes and workspaces, but it didn’t take long for them to feel comfortable on Fort Carson’s ranges.
The 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, held its first aerial gunnery training at the Mountain Post May 26-June 6 as “America’s Attack Battalion” Soldiers loaded and fired 30 mm rounds, 2.75-inch rockets and 100-pound training Hellfire missiles onto and from the AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters.
“Gunnery is one of our favorite things to do, we are an attack battalion after all,” said Lt. Col. Michael P. Hosie, who assumed command of the 1st Bn., 2nd Avn. Reg., May 19. Besides being enjoyable, gunnery training is crucial to the battalion’s effectiveness.
“Having crews confident with their weapons systems, but beyond being confident, being competent with their weapons systems is absolutely critical for us to be successful in our mission. Having Apache pilots who are competent and confident will enable the ground commanders to integrate Army aviation into their scheme of maneuver, and assist us in being successful in a combined arms environment.”
The battalion brings 24 aircraft to the fight and supports the Soldier on the ground with security, reconnaissance and lethal fires, Hosie said. In order to carry out the mission, the Gunfighters have nearly 500 Soldiers focused on keeping the Apaches in the air.
The scenario-based gunnery training marks the beginning of the battalion’s transition from performing the national strategic mission of securing the tenuous line between South and North Korea while stationed at Camp Eagle in Wonju, the Republic of Korea. Following its 5,400-nautical-mile move to the Mountain Post, the Gunfighters must now prepare for their 2010 deployment in support of the Global War on Terror.
This gunnery training will certify 11 battalion aircrews – the other 13 crews shot gunnery while in Korea – as each crew performs two day and two night missions.
While on the ranges, the aircrews disable or destroy the various identified targets with their weapons arsenal. The two-man crew consists of the pilot in command who flies the Apache from the rear seat and fires the rockets and the front seat co-pilot gunner is responsible for target engagement, radio communications and operation of the 30 mm chain gun and hellfire missile system. All battalion fliers are dual-seat, rated pilots, said Capt. Mark Warfield, an operations officer and Gunfighters’ pilot.
The Apache Longbow has been a welcome sight to military forces since it entered the Army’s fleet in 1984. The 30 mm chain gun, which moves with the head movement of a designated crewmember, can fire up to 650 rounds per minute with a maximum effective range of 1,500-1,700 meters. The attack helicopter can carry up to 38 hydra rockets with a maximum effective range of 3,000-5,000 meters and eight Hellfire anti-tank missiles for a combat load, said Warfield.
In addition to building the aircrews’ confidence, the gunnery training is also helping prepare the battalion’s Soldiers responsible for keeping the birds loaded and airborne for the upcoming deployment.
With three combat tours under his belt, Sgt. Brian Wells, Company E, said the gunnery allows him to share his combat experience with the Soldiers preparing for their first deployment.
“There’s not but three to four people (in my platoon) that have a combat patch, the rest of the Soldiers and some of the NCOs have never been to combat,” Wells said. “When we go out to the bird, the biggest thing is safety and making sure we teach the new guys a lot more about safety … as we train them up doing their job, making sure they stay safe while they’re doing it.”
He is also trying to use the training to help his Soldiers realize the faster pace of combat operations that requires “us to get up and go like right now,” Wells said. “We have to get our guys used to being ahead of the game … because when you go to war you can’t be behind.”
The battalion has a progressive and sequential training plan to carry out before deploying that, Hosie said, focuses initially on individual tasks and then moves on to collective battalion operations in support of ground commanders.
While the 1st Bn., 2nd Avn. Reg., trains its primary mission of preparing its Soldiers and aircrews for the deployment, Hosie insists they will not lose sight of their secondary mission, assisting other Fort Carson units with air ground integration training.
“We see our mission not only focused on our own individual and collective training needs as a battalion, but we are here also to get involved with all the other units on post and allow those Soldiers to become familiar with working with AH-64s and supporting them in their mission,” he said.
Possibly the biggest obstacle for the Gunfighters’ leadership to overcome prior to the unit’s deployment, is balancing training with Family and individual training.
“Of course we are going to be a highly-trained unit by the time we deploy,” Hosie said, noting the battalion will conduct two gunneries here, two exercises at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., and multiple other training exercises in support of Fort Carson units.
“We always have to ensure our Soldiers have time to go to schools and spend time with their Families to ensure the Family teams are postured for our long deployment.”
The move to Fort Carson has been a smooth transition for the 1st Bn., 2nd Avn. Reg., Hosie said.
“Across the board we have been welcomed very well by the Fort Carson community,” he said. “There is a great community here at the Mountain Post, and all of our Soldiers seem to be very excited to be here in Colorado and at Fort Carson.”
Pvt. Matt Stutzenburg, 361st Aviation Detachment, had orders to go to Fort Bragg, N.C., but jumped at the opportunity to follow the Gunfighters from Korea to Colorado.
“Our entire detachment is entirely volunteers … everyone chose to come here,” he noted.