Multinational rotary wings
By 1st Lt. Luis Sanchez
Do you know of the multinational air force that
combines manoeuvrability, capacity and effectiveness, being operational
and capable of providing a rapid response anywhere in Multinational
Division - Southeast (MND-SE)? Can you hear the chopping of rotor
blades breaking the silence of the Balkans? It is the Multinational
Army Aviation Battalion.
Versatility is the characteristic that best describes helicopter
units; they can perform so many different missions that sometimes
is quite difficult to classify them. From direct combat to combat
support, without forgetting medical evacuations (MEDEVAC), liaison,
search and rescue (SAR) and airborne post command, only the meteorological
conditions could stop it.
unit is based on two sites: the port of Ploce, on the Croatian
coast, where the Headquarters are located, and Rajlovac, Sarajevo
valley. The Multinational Army Aviation Battalion can perform
wide-ranging tasks, focusing on three main points: ensuring information
support, movement and if necessary, firing weapons from the air
in support of SFOR forces. On short notice, it can transport one
infantry company in any part of its area of responsibility (AOR),
from Mostar, where the MND-SE headquarters are located. And execute
sanitary evacuation missions, on 30-minute notice during daylight
and one-hour notice at night. "We are the emergency weapons
for a rapid response in MND-SE, in case of emergency or MEDEVAC,
24 hours per day; there are always two helicopters on the alert,
one here and the other in Rajlovac" commented Lt.Col Richard
Duboy, multinational battalion commanding officer.
French-led unit created on Feb. 26, 1997, comprises four main
sections, each a different nationality, to carry out these missions.
The French detachment is the main contingent as well as its commander.
The other three SFOR detachments - German, Italian and Spanish
- are under tactical control but under national command. One liaison
officer from these units is detached to the operations centre,
the true brain in which planning, distribution and co-ordination
run all helicopter operations in our MND-SE, and in order to integrate
into the unit it was not necessary to change the common procedures,
they are almost the same and I have the opportunity to learn from
them," explained Capt. Stefano Allegreti, Italian liaison
type of aircraft has its own technical characteristics, which
provide them with different flying features and possibilities
to perform a wide range of missions. In Ploce the French "Bataillon
de l'Aviation légère de l'Armée de Terre,"
BATALAT (Army Air Battalion), with four SA-330 "Pumas"
and four SA-342 M/M1 "Gazelle," as well as the Spanish
detachment, composed of two AS-532 UL "Cougars," are
assigned. In Rajlovac, the German Helicopter Unit "Lili Marlen"
with four CH-53 "Stallions," one of them MEDEVAC, and
four UH-1Ds, the Italian Helicopter Unit with four AB-205s, as
well as a two-Gazelle French patrol are deployed.
the beginning, aviation has had a varied collection of insignia,
which have contributed to enhance a pilot's job. Ploce-based units
are no exception. Walking across the hangar, everybody clearly
notices a special atmosphere, full of badges and symbols. The
"scorpions" are the aircrews of the Gazelle Squadron
(from the 5th Regiment) and "The Buffalos" the Puma
squadron (both from Aviation Légère de l'Amée
de Terre, ALAT, French Aviation Army Corps).
the main topic is "the passion to fly," as French Sgt.
Ludovic Letourneau, Gazelle pilot explained. "The flying
is a little different from Pau, a city near the Pyrénées
Mountains, where my unit is based
flying over the mountains
is not new for us, but there it was training and here it is real.
We have to be very careful and professional."
The other helicopter unit sharing Ploce base is
the Spanish Cougar Patrol. Its 16th rotation comes from the BHELMA
II (2nd Manoeuvring Helicopter Battalion), Fuerzas Aeromobiles
del Ejercito de Tierra FAMET (Spanish Army Aviation Corps), based
in Betera, a village near Valencia; they are fully integrated.
Their AS-532 UL Cougar, mainly performs transport tasks. This
chopper can be airborne with up to 24 full-equipped soldiers,
and their maintenance is completed. Being far away from their
aerodrome is not a problem; spare parts are supplied weekly and
in addition a brand new hangar has been provided.