GRAYLING, MI. –
Fifty-six Soldiers from Bravo Co. 2/147th and two medics from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, or HHC, loaded five UH-60 helicopters on July 9th in Frankfort, Ky., and made their way north to Camp Grayling Airfield on Michigan's northern peninsula to conduct annual training. The Soldiers offloaded, joined their forward team, and initiated the operation's setup.
Every year Soldiers from across the commonwealth form up to practice, train and improve upon their military occupational specialties, or MOS. As the state's only air assault unit, Bravo Co. 2/147th is unique in its build due to its multi-faceted operation.
The unit's composition is divided into four detachments, B Proper, Delta Co., Echo Co., and HHC, Headquarters and Headquarters Co.
"Aviation operates very differently than most unit's within the organization," said Bravo Co. 2/147th Commander, Capt. Chris Englen. "Each person relies on the person's proficiency to their left and right to survive."
"I am not a fueler," he adds. "As a pilot, I have put the trust of my life in their hands that when I go to operate, the aircraft will not explode. There are no small jobs here. This trust takes us from being a military unit to a family."
B Proper houses the unit's commander, 1st Sgt., unit crew chiefs with a flying status, and the unit's pilots, both commissioned and warrant officers.
UH-60 Blackhawk Repairers: 15T, possess a unique job within the unit. Known primarily as aircraft repairers, 15T prepares and maintains the UH-60's for operations through inspections, maintenance, and overall aircraft preparedness.
Once proven proficient in the knowledge and understanding of the aircraft's inner workings, an individual can be put into a flying status where they assist the pilots in the air. They are the eyes and ears from the rear, from takeoff to landing.
As an air assault unit specifically, 15T's may incur an additional duty to their already vast job description, gunnery. This select group of individuals are trained to mount, arm, and fire M240H machine guns from their position within the aircraft. It is this function that separates the unit from traditional aviation.
Delta Co. is the unit's maintenance supporting element. Crew chiefs, avionic mechanics, aircraft electricians, and the unit's automated logistical specialists make up the composition of the detachment. Without Delta co., the unit would be grounded at all times, unable to be mission operational.
There are a variety of scheduled inspections the team will conduct. For example, every aircraft requires a forty-hour assessment by Delta co. service members. This inspection is one of many tasks they will tackle during this annual training. Operating as forward support, the day-to-day operation fluctuates based on mission needs.
Outside of scheduled inspections, environmental impact plays a significant role in the team's tasking. For example, last year, the unit conducted annual training in Cherry Point, NC. Due to the saltwater environment, daily flushes of the engines with fresh water were necessary to prevent corrosion.
This year, aviators are conducting Degraded Visual Environment training, discussed later in the story, introducing dust and debris particles to the aircraft. These mission-specific trainings dictate the overall operation of Delta Co.
The Echo detachment is responsible for refueling the aircraft by conducting both hot and cold refueling. Hot refueling refers to an aircraft landing within the fueler's forward armament refueling point, called FARP. For this year's training, the unit expended 12,897 gallons of petroleum.
Once the Blackhawk is grounded, engines will continue to run while two members from Echo Co. safely approach and refuel. Hot fueling is used for a fast turnover during continual operations where it is not practical to shut down completely.
Cold fueling is typically conducted in the morning, ahead of the day's missions. Like Delta Co., Echo Co. has certain checks that must be undertaken to ensure fuel is safe and operable. The inspection is primarily for water contamination detection. The Aqua-Glo inspection is conducted every 24 hours.
The M978 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, (HEMTT) has a tank capacity of 2500 gallons. UH-60 helicopters have a 372-gallon capacity. With five Blackhawks in operation during this annual training, the refueling tanks are refilled several times daily to keep the mission operational.
The unit's HHC detachment is housed in the Tactical Operation Center. Run by the unit's aviation operations specialists, these service members keep track of the overall movements throughout each day. Sharing communication with the airfield tower, pilots, and command team, HHC maintains the schedules, locations, and operations of every service member's training.
Communicating via 2-way radios and a Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, or SINCGARS, the team updates several whiteboards with intended schedules encompassing all of AT, a proposed plan for 72 hours out, then detailed daily operations.
This information includes aircraft identification, mission information, and crew onboard. The team tracks expended fuel, ammunition, and flight hours while acting as a centralized point of all necessary contact information to local resources.
"Knowing the location of my Soldiers is what I need to remain mission-focused at all times," said B. Co 1st Sgt. Stephen Arny. "We have a great team on these radios tracking movements, safely getting our teams on and off the airfield, and keeping everyone in the know. Without their information organization and coordination, we would be unable to operate successfully."
This summer's mission consists of three pillar operational tasks: annual training requirements, multiple joint support missions with a local infantry battalion, and aerial gunnery.
All service members, regardless of MOS, must perform specific requirements annually to ensure they are mission capable at all times. Weapons qualification, height/weight standards, and a passing physical fitness score on the current test of record are standards every Soldier must meet as a part of their military contract.
In addition to the unified standard, individual units call for additional training relevant to their unique operational needs. Annual training is ideal for tackling these objectives.
Pilots conduct exercises to prepare them for any environment they may face during an operation, from stateside emergency relief efforts and different training environments to deployment complexities. Aviators must train and prepare for challenges they may face in a mission.
In addition to flight hour requirements, pilots must conduct to remain operable; they utilize annual training to expand their skill set and hone in on "not ideal" operations to adapt to any environment.
"Taking off and landing in a dedicated airfield is great, but that is not the reality of our job as military aviators," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Richard Singleton, Company Aviation Safety Officer, Company Unit Movement Officer, Bravo Co. 2/147th. "We practice a variety of flight patterns, landings, takeoffs, day/night conditions, and environmental variances. One of the exercises we prioritize during AT is DVE or Degraded Visual Environment training."
DVE is a technique pilots practice for lading in dust, sand, and snow environments. The loose ground impairs visibility when the Blackhawks ground in settings like this.
Most commonly seen in combat environments, being able to get to the ground safely for refueling, dropping, or retrieving troops, this exercise is crucial for mission readiness.
"I am one of the newest pilots in the unit," said Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Brumfield, Bravo Co. 2/147th. "Like most military schools, we are taught how to operate, but the specialty training doesn't start till you are back with your home station. During this annual training, I have had the opportunity to expand my skills and confidence."
Aviators in the Kentucky National Guard require 96 annual flight hours to maintain their ability to fly. They are broken down into bi-annual evaluations, with the 2nd evaluation focusing on particular techniques necessary to conduct specific operations.
As citizen Soldiers maintaining this requirement presents its own sets of challenges. One of the ways the organization can overcome crucial training is through joint support missions.
Summer months are the most common timeframe for National Guard Soldiers to conduct annual training, regardless of state origin. Kentucky Guard pilots can practice their operational requirements by logistically supporting units in the region while on their respective missions.
Kentucky aviators get ample time behind the controls while building relationships with units around the country. This year Bravo Co. 2/147 provided support for the 3/126 Infantry Battalion from the Michigan National Guard for a series of missions and joint operations.
"I wanted to fly in a helicopter since I was a kid," said Pvt. Thomas Darga, Delta Co. 3-126 Infantry Regiment. "As an infantryman, it's not something I ever thought I would do. I sent a photo to my son, and he asked if he could come to work with me next time. As a new Soldier and a dad, it is hard to say how that feels."
Over 10 days at Camp Grayling the Kentucky unit supported the Michigan infantryman on missions varying from 72 passengers, troop movements, infilling and exfilling scouts, CASEVAC training, sling loading training a HMMWV, and unit morale flights.
“Our two units stayed extremely busy while we had several different operations going on all around camp grayling,” said Lt. Corey Oney, a platoon leader with B. Co. 2/147th and the unit’s infantry liaison for this year’s AT. “We had to work with airspace confliction between our units since we were both doing gunnery. It was very important that we knew where all training was being conducted and coordinated with range control.”
“Although our units were from two different states working together was seamless do to the fact we are still the same team,” Oney added. “We left Michigan with great contacts for possible future training and great friends to see down the road.”
Aerial gunnery is one of the unit's broadest missions for this year's annual training schedule. It requires a significant amount of moving pieces to come to fruition.
On day one of training, all crew members were brought in to conduct familiarization and refresher training. Once the soldiers had time to ask questions and practice the M240H machine gun functions, they proceeded to the range for ground fire.
Using a crawl, walk, run approach, the unit initially shot the weapon dismounted from a prone position on the ground outside the aircraft. The service member then proceeds into the grounded Blackhawk to shoot a 100-round belt from the crew chief position.
In the following days, teams of four to five crew members shot 400 round belts at nine targets while flying across the Grayling Range for aerial gunnery qualification. This same sequence was then conducted at night.
Crew members dawn helmets with an integrated ANVIS Aviation Night Vision Imaging System to safely execute the night mission.
Ammo pickup, storage, discharge, and turn-in is a large-scale operation. 60,800 rounds were shot for the unit's aerial gunnery qualification process.
"We have been staying on top of the ammo room, ensuring that the flight crews can come and get what they need when they need it," said Spc. Austin Banks, a crew chief with the B. Co. 2/147th, is charged with maintaining all 61,000 rounds of ammo this AT season.
"Even though we move fast, we must ensure every ammo can is properly loaded so it can discharge without issue. In a combat environment, when a gun is inoperable due to a feed malfunction, is more time the enemy has to shoot at us without cover - we take that responsibility very seriously."
Executing an annual training like this takes months to prepare. From the selection of location, training necessary, movement of troops and equipment, pay, lodging, and food. This process is predominately completed by the unit's full-time readiness non-commissioned officer. Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Downer, a crew chief with Bravo Co. 2/147th, is also the unit's full-time readiness NCO.
"Bravo Co. 2-147 started planning gunnery training in November 2021, and with a combined effort of the entire unit, we overcame obstacles and hurdles to create an incredible training experience," said Downer. "Large unit movements like this have a lot of complicating moving pieces that require leadership from every section to be successful. Each year we strive to train at new locations across the county to continue challenging and bettering ourselves. Overcoming those challenges brings us closer together as a family."