CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - Soldiers of the California Army National Guard's 40th Combat Aviation Brigade conducted an interoperability training exercise aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf March 13-17.
CH-47 Chinook Helicopters from Company B, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, and AH-64 Apache helicopters from 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment landed aboard the USS Ponce to improve the two organizations’ ability to work together in operations in the Persian Gulf.
The 40th CAB gains a lot from exercises like this because we get familiar with Naval operations and we’ve learned an incredible amount on how to work together in the combined fight here in the Arabian Gulf,” said Capt. King Moon, the assistant future operations officer for the 40th CAB. “The Soldiers had a great time just seeing how everything operates on a Navy ship.”
This was the first time 40th CAB Chinooks landed aboard a naval vessel, putting the skills of their crews and support personnel to the test.
“We learned that everything, when it comes to business on the flight deck, is taken very serious,” said Spc. Andrew Hinojosa, an aviation operations specialist from Phoenix with the 3-6 CAV. “Safety is the number one priority here. Everybody has a job, everybody has a place to be.”
40th CAB Soldiers armed the landed Apache helicopters with AGM-114 rockets and 30mm rounds for a nearby live-fire training range, giving both Soldiers and Sailors increased familiarity with supporting Army aircraft aboard a Navy ship.
“Onboard the Ponce, the Navy’s only afloat forward staging base, these inter-operability exercises are extremely important to ensure Ponce is ready to support a vast series of mission sets to ensure the stability of the Arabian Gulf,” said Lt. Anthony Ortman, the operations officer aboard the USS Ponce.
The week’s exercises were a first for many of the involved service members, even for experienced leaders.
“This is definitely the first time I’ve seen a Chinook land, it was pretty neat,” said Cmdr. Wayne Patras, the Ponce’s air boss, who is responsible for all aviation operations aboard the flight deck. “I flew CH-53 Sea Stallions in my past, so it was fun working with them.”
The 40th CAB Soldiers who stayed aboard the USS Ponce for the duration of the exercise got to experience first-hand the day-to-day routines of Sailors out at sea, ranging from sleeping in racks to eating in the ship’s galley.
“I’ve never experienced something like this before,” said Hinojosa. “We definitely got to experience life in confined quarters, stacked four-high on some racks living in a hallway.”
By the end of the exercise, both the 40th CAB and the ship’s crew learned valuable lessons on how to work together in the event of a real-life crisis.
“The teamwork that was displayed out here by the Army and the Navy shows the flexibility that we can work hand-in-hand in a mission at sea,” Ortman said.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the old saying goes. Likewise, both the Army and Navy service members involved hope to continue improving their interoperability with future exercises.
“The battlespace is contiguous, there’s no boundaries between what we do, it’s a common mission; the defense of the United States and our allies,” said Moon. “We’re going to have to learn how to work more closely together, and this is just one stepping stone toward that.”