Story and photo by Sgt. Brad Mincey, 108th Public Affairs Detachment
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The South Carolina National Guard, 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB), conducted a one-of-a-kind joint training exercise with the U.S. Navy June 14-20 at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
The six-day exercise consisted of a helicopter live-fire gunnery with the AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter and overwater survivability and extractions where pilots from the 1-151st ARB worked alongside Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter pilots.
According to Capt. Steven Seigler, commander, Company C, 1-151st ARB, no other Guard unit has had this much interaction with the Navy conducting this kind of training.
“Our interest in over water training started after Operation New Dawn,” said Seigler. “When we left Iraq, we found ourselves finishing up our tour in Kuwait. We weren’t in a combat situation, and we started looking into flying further over water than before which required new training.”
The unit has worked hand in hand with the U.S. Navy training collaboratively for the last several years performing training events.
The most recent event, Over Water Lanes Survivability Gunnery And Proficiency, is just one of several joint exercises the S.C. Guard has planned. The collaboration between the two very different groups has been a great benefit to both.
“We are the first unit to deck qualify for the AH-64,” said Seigler. “We began our training in a Navy Seahawk, sitting side-by-side with a Navy pilot. Later, the Navy pilots rode alongside the Apache pilots.”
“This allows us to work together to resolve any issues before we are ever needed to work together,” said Lt. Patrick Sippel, an MH-60R Seahawk pilot with Helicopter Maritime Strike 74 Squadron. “The only thing we really had to work through was a communication problem, but we resolved that quickly and were able to continue on with the mission.”
The idea of coming to Jacksonville began about a year ago during a sustainment exercise. The Navy wanted the 1-151st ARB to conduct training with them and fire the new radar-guided Hellfire missiles at some of their remote controlled boats. This in itself is a unique task that no other active duty or Reserve Apache pilots are qualified for.
“We are still the only unit that has an Air Worthiness Release for our aircraft to fire that missile,” said Seigler.
Another way the 1-151st ARB is working with the Navy is with joint training between the Apaches and the E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS). Although the Apaches have reconnaissance capabilities of their own, when working in unison with the JSTARS, they are more effective and efficient.
“They are able to send us targets, and they have a much larger search area, which helps us focus our reconnaissance and strike capabilities,” said Seigler. “This helps us with our patrolling an area, and we have the unique ability to take out moving targets on the water.”
Although the Apache pilots often have the opportunity to conduct live-fire training during annual gunnery exercises, they rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to get wet and be extracted from the water. In the past, this wasn’t considered necessary until the 1-151st ARB became one of the first to conduct overwater missions with the Apache.
“We hoisted 20 members of the 151st from the water, which gave them some additional experience with overwater search and rescue,” said Sippel. “This gets them under the helicopter to see what it is like to float in the water and work with a Navy helicopter. This gives them a chance to see what it would be like if, heaven forbid, they go down in water.”
The ground crews who serve the aircraft acquire additional training and practice as well. During the gunnery, Soldiers loaded 30 mm rounds and 2.75 rockets to fire at a variety of targets at Pinecastle Range Complex.
“Being able to go to different states gives us the opportunity to work in different areas and, in this instance, conduct training we wouldn’t normally be able to do,” said Sgt. Jason Vankoevering, Company D, 1-151st ARB. “I think because of what we have done, we have more experienced pilots and maintainers than many regular Army units.”
“If and when we ever get deployed to an area where we have to deploy these tactics, we will know our job, and we are going to be the best at it,” said Seigler.