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New York Army National Guard cavalrymen and aviators team up for combined training

By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell and Sgt. Jonathan Monfiletto | New York National Guard | February 24, 2016

YOUNGSTOWN, N.Y. -- Aircrews from the New York Army National Guard's Company B, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation teamed up for combined training with cavalrymen from Troop C, 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry to hone skills in aerial insertion and extraction here on Saturday, Feb. 20.

The Rochester, N.Y. based aviators helped the Buffalo, N.Y. based cavalrymen learn to enter and exit a CH-47F Chinook helicopter at the Army National Guard's Youngstown Local Training Area.

The troopers also trained in breaking contact with an enemy force and extracting by the helicopter, said 1st Lt. Ian Merritt, the C Troop executive officer.

In Afghanistan, where Company B has deployed twice, the CH-47 is the preferred aircraft for delivering Soldiers to high mountaintops.

Both units will train at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Fort Polk, Louisiana this summer, a high point of collective training for the Soldiers.

Because there are new Soldiers in Troop C, it helps to get everyone out to the training area to get them into a tactical mindset, Merritt said. The training isn't difficult, but it is a good way to ease back into tactical events and get everyone motivated and on track for JRTC, he said.

"We have a lot of new guys in the unit, so it's good for unit cohesion to start working with them," said Spc. Erik O'Grady, a rifleman assigned to C Troop.

"Going into the bird, out of the bird, forming proper security once we leave the bird, and proper posture while we're waiting for it to come in," he said.

"It's good to get the practice in now, especially with the younger guys to know what we're doing when we get there," O'Grady said.

The Company B CH-47 landed late Saturday morning, and flight engineers Staff Sgt. Jeff Lentz and Sgt. Mike Landauer briefed the cavalrymen about the aircraft. Then Landauer showed the Soldiers how to load onto and unload from the aircraft without the helicopter running - in what is called cold load training.

Then, to ratchet up the experience, the Chinook pilots turned on the aircraft's engines to allow Landauer to raise and lower the ramp on the rear of the helicopter and give the cavalrymen a feel for getting on and off the aircraft in a real-life situation.

Finally, the aviators fired up the aircraft and four teams of cavalrymen took turns loading into the helicopter in an extraction exercise, and taking a brief flight around the training area. Then they landed and unloaded from the helicopter in an insertion exercise before the next team practiced extracting and inserting.

"They had a lot of new guys, and it was good for them to get familiarized with the aircraft, especially for the guys that have never been on one or been around one," Landauer said. "Especially if they have you going overseas, you're going to be flying in a Chinook a lot. Everybody moves stuff with Chinooks."

Landauer said starting the training mission off with a cold load exercise provides the crawl of the crawl, walk, run method and helps Soldiers build muscle memory by practicing slow, deliberate movements to prepare for a fast-paced, real-life scenario.

In this particular case, he noted the cavalry troopers had to be able to buckle their seatbelts in the helicopter with rucksacks still attached to their backs. Some struggled getting fastened at first, so the practice prepared for the actual takeoff.

"This type of training is designed as stepping stones moving on to more realistic training," said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Tippett, admin and readiness NCO for C Troop and the 1st platoon sergeant. "We're trying to get the Soldiers' into a mindset of actually going into battle."

Landauer, an Afghanistan veteran, said the training let him share his firsthand knowledge from actual combat missions with the Soldiers.

"You get to convey your experience and what you've seen to them and give them pointers," he said. "You never know when they're going to be in a situation where they're going to need that. Chinooks are the primary mover in theater, so chances are very good that they're going to be flying on one someday."

Both aviators and cavalrymen communicated with each other by radio and the cavalrymen used smoke grenades to signal the helicopter, which is a method that is actually used overseas, Landauer noted.

"The plan's always good on paper, but a lot of stuff will unravel when you start proceeding forward with the mission," he said. "After you do a dozen or so of them, everything starts to make sense and comes together."

For Warrant Officer Erik Bagdonavicius, one of the Chinook pilots, Saturday's training was all about maintaining safety in landing in a confined area and proficiency in executing extractions and insertions.

Back in Rochester, for example, the flight planning focused on dealing with windy conditions and soggy ground, Bagdonavicius said.

"For the winds, you want to always land into the wind because if you don't, you can get into unsafe conditions that could put the aircraft and the crew at risk." "For the wetness, we don't want the aircraft to sink too low into the mud because we have antennas underneath that could get broken, Bagdonavicus said."

It was also the first time Bagdonavicius landed a helicopter at the Youngstown Training Area, so while one may not know the hazards of a new area, he said the key is to survey the area before touching down to identify the conditions.

"Every time you go into a new LZ, you want to do a little bit of recon," he said. "All small areas are kind of the same."

"As we're moving to JRTC and heading towards a ready year for mobilization, it's important to have this sort of training," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hare, training NCO for C Troop.

"It adds a real world aspect to it so that when it happens in the future, we're ready for it," Hare said.