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N.Y. cavalry members brave wintry woods for recon training

By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell | New York National Guard | March 13, 2018

JAVA CENTER, N.Y. — More than 40 Soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 101st Cavalry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard endured harsh winter weather to conduct reconnaissance training with CH-47 Chinook helicopters in Beaver Hollows, March 10-11.

The Chinooks belonging to Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 126 Aviation Regiment from Rochester, inserted the members of Charlie Troop into more than 20 inches of snow. With temperatures below freezing, the infantrymen set up various observation points throughout the weekend in order to sharpen their tactics and techniques.

"The purpose of our immersion here is to conduct reconnaissance," said Sgt. Michael Wheeler, a team leader assigned to Charlie Troop. "It's to facilitate follow-on movement for the commander, because essentially we are the eyes and ears of the cavalry."

These types of operations allow commanders to make informed decisions on enemy activity so friendly forces can safely move into position. Being able to conduct this training with aviation support has come as an added bonus for the Soldiers.

It's pretty rare to get aviation support, maybe once or twice a year, said Wheeler. It's always weather dependent and it tends to cancel these operations, Wheeler said.

With a recent winter storm still covering western New York in snow, Charlie Troop was dropped off into an area where the snow was at least knee deep. Soldiers then had to contend with a blinding mix of wind and snow as they disembarked their Chinook and established security in the landing zone.

"We got lucky today, the whiteout was a little bit bad," Wheeler said. "But the operations were successful and everyone was safe and it was a huge learning experience for most of the guys."

Undertaking not just any ordinary walk through the snow, in the infantry the Soldiers bear heavy loads. The weight makes trudging through the uneven, snow-covered terrain even more difficult.

"Typically an infantryman has 35 to 50 pounds of gear. In reconnaissance we are sustaining for 72 hours, on foot, so now it's around 70 to 100 pounds," Wheeler said. "We're sinking pretty hard and it's definitely adding to the slowing of our movement."

As difficult as it may be, this is the kind of training that motivates the Soldiers from Buffalo. Morale and the enthusiasm to train no matter the conditions, runs high in Charlie Troop.

"It's great - we're out here teaching the younger guys, the less-experienced guys like myself," said Spc. Cory Dawson, a senior scout assigned to Charlie Troop. "Everybody needs to know the job of the man above them and below them, and when your leaders are out here letting you take their spot it helps you get a bigger picture on the whole mission."

Being out in the freezing weather is part of what they all signed up for. Nothing can seemingly dampen the excitement for the unique training opportunities at hand.

"I wanted to do fun stuff and it's cool sneaking around the woods," said Dawson. "We don't do typical infantry things, we do more recon and we get to spy on people that don't even know we're there and we will leave without ever being seen."

Though for many in Charlie Troop, this was the first time they were able to get experience using aviation to get in and out of a battlefield.

"I've had some training with aviation once before but this is the first time I've done an air insertion," said Dawson. "Today went really well and it was actually pretty cool flying in through the snow and then helicopter hovering and blowing it off the landing zone."

The Soldiers will stay in the area of their landing zone in Beaver Hollows conducting reconnaissance missions into the late hours of the night. Flying out after the 48 grueling hours, they know what they went through was in actuality, something special.

"It's something that most people see in movies and on TV," Wheeler said. "Actually getting to do it is pretty fulfilling, especially as an infantryman."