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Airborne Heavy Metal

By1st Lt. Kristoffer Egeberg
First published in
SFOR Informer#114, May 30, 2001

The wind is howling through the cabin as the black war bird dives through the air. Tough men with guns of steel scream in fearful joy.

Visoko - As the green ground grows beneath the open side doors, the flap of the rotors grows stronger.
"Ready?" shouts the team leader and waves to his men. They will soon be on the ground.
Gentle as a cat, the bird touches down. Seconds later, it is empty. As it reclaims its rule of the clouded sky, the men are left in charge of the ground.

Dropped in peace this day, but maybe to battle tomorrow. It is the uncertain fate of SFOR Operational Reserves (OPRES), always training to be ready, and always ready to deploy.
"Today we train with OPRES Air, two American Blackhawk helicopters from Eagle Base in Tuzla," said Capt. Joao Santana, troop commander, Eagle Troop of the Portuguese OPRES.
It is to keep up the standards. As his men may, on two hours notice, find themselves in the heat anywhere in the theatre.

"This time we emphasise the training on deployment with our heavy weapons and see how they can be fitted inside the Blackhawk. It is the first time we have brought our anti-tank weapons, our mortars and our heavy machine guns. Back home we use another type of helicopter, the French Alouette 3. It is smaller than the Blackhawk," he said.

First time or not, when the birds arrive, Santana and his men find room for all. Team after team work through the drill, training as if it were real. So does the American aircrew, giving rough rides to avoid ground fire, all to the cheerful screams from the land crabs onboard. A full-scale roller coaster is just peanuts in comparison. But when nations and branches train shoulder-to-shoulder, fun is part of the game.

"This is the first time I flew with the OPRES, a great chance to interact with different countries," said Blackhawk pilot Warrant Officer 2 Matthew Hutchson.
"Doing these drills are pretty standard as we do it. But it helps a lot when they have had the amount of training these guys have," he said, impressed by the Portuguese.

No wonder when they take to the skies it's their turn to show what pilots are made of.
Safely on the ground again, a new team is ready to fly.
"Blackhawks are really good helicopters which can be used for any kind of mission. Also it has more space for men and equipment than the Alouette 3," said 2nd Lt. Antonio Marques. As the mortar platoon commander he has a lot to take with him.

"The mortars are heavy and in big pieces. The challenge is to fit everything inside together with the men," he says. But five minutes later he is up there with his soldiers, cheering for joy against the howling wind.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US, Portugal
Training and Exercises