Story and photo by Dustin Senger
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, hosted an exhibition for their Families Monday to showcase AH-64D Apache maneuvers and munitions.
Several hundred people gathered from 2 p.m. to sunset at Range 109, where Soldiers displayed service weapons, tactical vehicles and Apaches, the Army’s premier attack helicopter.
More than 400 Soldiers from 1st Bn., 2nd Avn. Reg., are scheduled to deploy in January with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Inf. Div., from Fort Shafter, Hawaii, during an upcoming rotation of forces in Afghanistan. Department of Defense officials announced the brigade’s deployment in September.
Upon arriving to the live-fire range, 9-year-old Jose Barrera promptly climbed aboard a staged Apache. He helped his friend, Cameron Kavalec, 9, figure out how pilots enter the tandem-seated cockpit. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Carlos Barrera, Jose’s father, has flown the Army’s attack helicopter throughout his son’s life.
“Jose loves to come out here — every time is like his first time,” said his mother, Bernadette Barrera. “Every time they have a demonstration, we try to come out. It connects us with our husbands, with what they do. Jose knows his dad flies, so he’s pretty excited about seeing the helicopters in action.”
Apaches are designed to destroy high-value targets, protect ground units and provide aerial escorts, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nathon Woelke, one of six master gunners assigned to 1st Bn., 2nd Avn. Reg. Woelke narrated two opportunities for Army Families to watch Apache pilots perform small-unit tactics.
“The theme today is teamwork,” said Woelke, addressing Army spouses, children and friends, ready for the evening’s final show.
“We’re going to recognize all the efforts that go into flying an Apache and keeping them effective downrange,” said Woelke. “We have a whole array of people in different specialties that make these things work.”
Woelke called for a crew chief to prepare the empty Apache. A Soldier stood up from the bleachers, and then ran to the nearby aircraft. Next he requested a pilot and co-pilot, which prompted Capt. Brian Matthews, pilot-in-command, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Adam Lietz, co-pilot gunner, to join the crew chief.
Matthews and Lietz completed an inspection, while a crew loaded Hellfire missiles and checked the M230 chain gun and Hydra 70 rocket launchers. Soldiers in a Humvee arrived with a heavy expanded mobility tactical truck capable of transporting 2,500 gallons of fuel. After about 15 minutes, the area cleared.
“Gentlemen, start your engines,” said Woelke. The pilots switched on the twin-turbine engines and the top four blades gained momentum. As the helicopter lifted upward, strong gusts of dust struck the crowd.
Matthews and Lietz united with a second Apache team for rotated battlefield drills. One aircraft provided cover while the other engaged targets. They fired folding-fin aerial rockets and triggered 25- to 50-round bursts of 30 mm bullets. Woelke clarified broadcasted radio conversations with the pilots.
“It was my first time seeing the helicopters in action — I’m very impressed and kind of in awe,” said Bernadette Barrera.
“I’ve seen Apaches on television, but seeing it in person is really something else … you can really feel the pounding of the bullets. It’s just amazing what these guys do. You have to be a special person to maneuver one of these things.
“I want to call my husband and tell him I love him,” said Bernadette Barrera. Her husband was at Fort Rucker, Ala., attending a course critical for his advancement as a senior Army officer, she said.
“The Apaches’ capabilities to engage and destroy the enemy are the best in the world,” said Capt. Mark Handloff, 1st Bn., 2nd Avn. Reg., a fire support officer who helped coordinate the event. “Its ability to project force is unparalleled, that was certainly on display during the combat maneuvering flights.
“Being able to see that in a live fire, it really showed the culmination of all the training and exercises: a unit that’s prepared to deploy, support the Afghan government, Afghan security forces and destroy the enemy.”
The battalion’s departure to Afghanistan begins its first combat deployment since relocating from Camp Eagle in Wonju, South Korea, to Fort Carson in 2009. Unit leadership has been focused on balancing combat training with Family activities, said Handloff.
Watching the combat maneuvering flights and live-fire engagements instilled confidence in the Soldiers’ readiness for combat, he said.