CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – Soldiers with the 3rd Battalion, 238th General Support Aviation Battalion, Delaware Army National Guard, the 702nd Ordnance Company, Grafenwoehr, Germany, and the 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Iowa Army National Guard, carried out the first helicopter landing site clearing operation assigned to Regional Command-East, Kosovo Force, on Dec. 30, 2020.
“Operation Sweeper is something that we do in order to ensure a safe and secure environment in Kosovo,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Corey Buterbaugh, an aviation mission survivability officer with Company A, 3-238th. “Part of what we do at some regular interval is to sweep helicopter landing sites for unexploded ordnance.”
The operation involves many moving parts, said 1st Lt. Charles McAuley, a platoon leader with the 3-238th. Cooperation and extensive planning set the mission up for success.
“Step one for Operation Sweeper is receiving the mission and doing the initial planning,” said McAuley. “So, figuring out which helicopter landing site that we have to go to, what part of the country it is, what type of terrain it has, any obstacles and, basically, the best route for a helicopter to go in and out. After that, we can start planning in the passengers, whether that be EOD or the pathfinders, and see how they can be incorporated into our plan.”
HLS clearing ensures the safety of patrols along the administrative boundary line (ABL) between Kosovo and Serbia, said Buterbaugh. The aviation crew also needs to be able to land along the ABL at any time.
“We ensure that the landing sites are clear,” said Buterbaugh. “It is necessary to give the troops the ability to maneuver. The troops need to be wherever we need them to be, whenever we need them to be there. This training is important for coordination of all aspects.”
When the 702nd gets dropped on the ground to sweep the area for unexploded ordnance, they are prepared to clear the area. The EOD team has all the necessary equipment to clear obstructions.
There are many challenges that go into taking Soldiers from different units, landing them in the mountains and then returning them safely, said Buterbaugh. The operation was initially delayed because of low visibility.
“One of the challenges that we face here in Kosovo in the winter is the weather,” said Buterbaugh. “The visibility. With the temperature and dew point so close together and being close to the mountains as we are, the sun can’t get through to burn that off. It makes it difficult to operate from an aviation aspect.”
Pathfinders with the 1-113th kept contact with the UH-60 Black Hawk pilots during the sweep of the area for unexploded ordnance. Once the area was cleared, the ground team was picked up and taken to the next HLS. Pathfinders establish operating helicopter landing zones and are essential to the HLS mission.
“In aviation and all military operations, communication is key,” said McAuley. “We always want to have an open line of communication to know exactly what the people on the ground are doing and have them know exactly what we are doing in the helicopter. We make sure there are no surprises so we can get the job done quick and easy.”