214th Aviation Battalion, 3 years flying in BiH
By Capt. Jesus Campuzano
First published in
SFOR Informer #72, 13 Oct, 1999
Sarajevo Airport - In October 1996, the US 207th Aviation Company was deployed to Sarajevo in order to provide transportation for the diplomats and officers assigned to IFOR and then to Headquarters SFOR.
This deployment officially began on October 10 with sixteen soldiers boarding an Army contracted bus in Heidelberg bound for Tazsar, Hungary. There they were to join the eight trucks that had already been loaded on rail flatbeds bound for the intermediate staging area. From Taszar, the group convoyed down to Slovonski Brod, Croatia and then crossed the Sava River into Bosnia. The advance party spent three weeks in Tuzla where they were joined by three UH-60s before moving to their current 'home' at Sarajevo Airport, two hangars at the end of the civilian terminal.
Their arrival in Sarajevo brought new challenges, the group had to deal with a hangar with holes in the roof from the mortars rounds that had struck it during the recent war. Landmine awareness training became invaluable. Unexploded ordinance was visible from the road and were routinely popping up in areas that were supposed to have been cleaned.
Flying in Bosnia and Hercegovina proved to be the biggest challenge of all. The weather here changes rapidly and visibility and ceilings can both drop thousands of meters within minutes. It's very common to leave Sarajevo in good weather bound for destinations as close as Mostar or Tuzla and to be unable to complete the mission. The low-weather routes that are now well mapped were unknown then and even the simplest of flights tested the navigational skills of the unit's pilots.
The 207th Aviation Company became 214th Aviation Battalion, based in Heidelberg as part of US Army Europe (USAREUR). Today, a detachment of this unit continues flying in Bosnia and Hercegovina in support of HQ SFOR. About twenty people, pilots, mechanics and support personnel, rotate on a four weekly basis, taking care of four UH-60 Black Hawks. "They are basic versions with improvements such as better seats, headphones for each passenger, and a meteorological radar to avoid bad weather areas," explained Sgt.1st Class Mark McMillin.
The experience learnt flying three years in BiH is not lost with the rotations. "We put people together, young pilots with those pilots who have been here for a long time. We consider two kinds of experience. Experience in flight with the Black Hawk and experience in the Theatre," said 1st Lt. Vicent Carpenter.
In addition to mission flights, the crews also keep training. "We fly more here, that helps to improve or keep our proficiency. We learn quickly here, there are no distractors so you can concentrate on work. Apart from flights during day time we also practise flights at night and sometimes on the range with our weapons," added 1st Lt. Carpenter.
Besides the acquired professional experience, everyone has personal experiences about his tours in Sarajevo. "Every time you come down the local people are rebuilding something new. The buildings are coming back to the way they used to be. It is nice to come down and see you provide peace so that they can rebuild the country," said Sgt. 1st Class McMillin.