Tropic Lighting Strikes Glamoc

Lt. Col. Sam Burns
First published in
SFOR Informer#142, July 4, 2002

Task Force 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment (The Bandits) provides two important elements for SFOR, the first is as an aviation manoeuvre asset as part of Multinational Division North (MND-N) and the second is the provision of an Operational Air Reserve to Commander SFOR. Exercise Pacific Resolve which took place June 15 - 16 was created to allow the unit to undertake live firing as part of an annual requirement to be assessed on operational shooting skills.

Glamoc - Capt. Barney Hill, Operational Air Reserve liaison officer explained the unit's role and equipment: "We are here to provide three key functions; the first is a day and night reconnaissance capability, second, an air to ground attack capability and last an air assault and movement capability. We fly two types of aircraft; the two seat OH-58D Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance and light attack helicopter, and the UH-60L Blackhawk tactical troop and cargo helicopter. The Blackhawk can carry 11 fully equipped troops or lift up to 4000 kilograms a load." Hill points to the arm patch on his uniform saying: "This is our divisional patch, it's a taro leaf with a lighting flash, the division is known as the Tropic Lightning Division and it's the first time in our history we have been deployed to Europe."

Exercise Pacific Resolve
Logistic Support Area (LSA) Comanche is the name of the temporary operating base set up on Glamoc ranges to support the exercise. Maj. Fred Choi, battalion operations officer designed the exercise, and acts as conducting officer. "(Exercise) Resolve has a number of aims, these include exercise convoy procedures, Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) teams, Forward Maintenance Teams (FMT), Downed Aircraft Recovery Teams (DART), Forward Tactical Control (TAC) and of course the aircrews weapons firing skills."
Choi has been operations officer for 11 months; it's his first operational deployment in that post. "This (SFOR) has been good for the regiment; it's given us an opportunity to deploy with all of our elements and the work has pulled us together allowing us to gel as a team," he said.

Bullets and Blue Spears
The Kiowa crews will fire the aircraft's .50 Calibre (12.7mm) machine guns and a training version of the 2.75 inch (70mm) rockets known as Blue Spears. The Blackhawk crew-chiefs will fire their door mounted M60 7.62mm machine guns. Targets are two 3 x 3 metre ply-board squares which will be engaged from a variety of ranges.

Ghostrider 32
Chief Warrant Officers Pete 'Soop' Mansoor and Angel 'Fozzy' Alejandro crew a Kiowa helicopter. They have flown together for just under two months; it's the second time they will be firing as a team. For this particular exercise, Mansoor will sit in the right seat controlling the weapons system while Alejandro will take the left, using the sighting systems to acquire and designate targets. On the radio this pair is known as Ghostrider 32. Before they begin, pre-flight checks are undertaken on the small helicopter. "Pre-flight (checks) are almost automatic, you know how things should look and feel, and if something appears wrong you focus in on it right away," explained Mansoor.
Alejandro continues with checks while Mansoor runs through the sequence of their engagement with Blackhawk pilot Chief Warrant Officer Marshall Hobel. "Today's shoot is not a difficult one, the targets and ground are pretty straightforward so we will take the opportunity to run it like a snap shot, like shooting from the hip," said Alejandro. Mansoor added: "Yeah, that's right, we describe it as shooting from between your knees."

Crews prepare M60s for firing
A Blackhawk crew from Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion 25th Aviation Regiment undertakes pre-flight checks on their helicopter. The size of a normal crew for a Blackhawk is four; two pilots and two crew chiefs, but today there will be four crew chiefs on board, each taking his turn at one of the helicopters two M60 machine guns.
Specialist's 'Roach' Rivera, Chris Everett, Todd Hall and Elie Aswad prepare their guns for firing. "Live firing is good, it's a real buzz," said Hall. "Unfortunately our work allows us to see lots of the country but not to meet the local people. It's not good being restricted to Eagle Base, I wish that rule would be relaxed," said Everett. "There are times when I don't enjoy this job, however, we recently took part in an exercise with NORDPOL soldiers, we were lifting and dropping troops, flying tactically, it was good experience," said Rivera.

Fuel, Bullets and Rockets
With pre-flight checks and briefings completed, the LSA comes to life. Clouds of dust bellow into the late afternoon sun as the helicopters lift off and wait to be called to the FARP. Ghostrider 32 is called; it touches down and is immediately surrounded by helmet-clad armourers and technicians. Systems are checked, weapons loaded and the aircraft refueld. After a few minutes the Kiowa is airborne and approaches its designated target area. Control of the aircraft is passed from the FARP control officer to the TAC (Tactical Advance Control). The TAC passes details of the target to the aircraft; the helicopter acknowledges and advises when ready to engage. As they pass over a 30 metre strip of white tape pinned to the ground the crew advise they are 'switches hot' the term used to describe being ready to engage.

Targets engaged
Ghostrider 32 sweeps low along the base of a valley leading to the target area. At the last moment it lifts over the final ridge that has been masking its approach and climbs steeply to allow it to dive down into its engagement approach. The Kiowa's .50 calibre gun chatters, lines of tracer arc from the barrel and the fall of shot is marked by eruptions of dust and earth around the white ply-board squares. Immediately the Kiowa banks sharply and sweeps away behind a line of hilltops to begin its next approach. The sequence of approach is repeated but in this engagement four Blue Spears are launched one after the other. Lines of smoke sketch their flight. It's a good engagement, all rockets strike within 200 metres of the target. All ammunition is expended, the Kiowa calls in 'Switches Cold' and returns to the FARP for another load. The TAC confirms their score. It's the highest in the battalion; they will be awarded the unit's 'top gun' award.
The Blackhawk is called forward and allocated targets. The crew chiefs engage from various ranges, some engagements are fired while the helicopter is moving, others when stationary. Lines of tracer arc downwards, rounds strike around the targets. The skill of the firers masks the difficulty of this type of shooting, almost all bursts of rounds land in the area of the target.
As the sun sets, crews prepare for the next phase of the shoot. All will be repeated but this time in darkness. The hills around Glamoc fall silent for a few hours before Tropic Lightning strikes again.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: US

Training and Exercises

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Photos: PO Susan Rose

Meters from the ground, a Kiowa sweeps into an attack approach.


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A Kiowa Warrior firing its .50 Calibre Gun.


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Small but deadly, the Kiowa Warrior.


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Chief Warrant Officers Pete 'Soup' Mansoor and Marshall Hobel discuss aircraft positioning during target engagement prior to takeoff.


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In the FARP, armourers check firing systems before loading with 'blue spears'.


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Potent combination; a Blackhawk and Kiowa Warriors from 1-25 Aviation Regiment.


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Blackjacks and Ghostriders; a Blackhawk crewchief watches Ghostrider32' as they wait to be called forward to engage.


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Crewchief, Spec. Todd Hall prepares his M60 door gun for firing.


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One of the Kiowa's primary weapons systems, the 70 mm rocket pod.


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A Blackhawk crewchief reloads his M60.