Virginia National Guard aviators depart for border mission

Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment depart for the border between the United States and Mexico Jan. 26, 2015, aboard a UH-72 Lakota helicopter, from the Chesterfield County Airport. The three Soldiers will provide aerial detection and monitoring support to U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection and additional Virginia Guard Soldiers will rotate through the mission until the end of April in support of law enforcement interdiction operations against illicit trafficking in people, drugs, weapons and money, as well as the violence associated with those illicit activities. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment depart for the border between the United States and Mexico Jan. 26, 2015, aboard a UH-72 Lakota helicopter, from the Chesterfield County Airport.  (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

CHESTERFIELD, Va. — Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment departed Jan. 26, 2015, for the border between the United States and Mexico aboard a UH-72 Lakota helicopter to provide aerial detection and monitoring support to U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection. The three-Soldier crew flew from the Chesterfield County Airport, and additional Virginia Guard Soldiers will rotate through the mission until the end of April in support of law enforcement interdiction operations against illicit trafficking in people, drugs, weapons and money, as well as the violence associated with those illicit activities.

Their Lakota helicopter is configured with the Mission Equipment Package that includes a camera system with advanced optics and infrared sensors, a high intensity searchlight, a digital video recorder and data downlink system as well as communications equipment specially suited for domestics operations, said Lt. Col. Kevin Warfield, the Virginia National Guard’s state aviation officer. Detachment 1 also has a Lakota configured for search and rescue operations with a mechanical hoist and room for a stretcher and medical support personnel.

Last year the Virginia Guard rotated approximately 10 Soldiers through the border security mission over a three month period and has supported the mission several times in previous years. During those rotations, the Soldiers also saved the lives of many illegal immigrants that became stranded in the desert without any water or medical aid in addition to conducting security operations.

The Lakota brings a special capability to the CBP for reconnaissance and security operations, especially during times of limited visibility, Warfield said.

“The Southwest Border mission provides two important opportunities for our Lakota detachment personnel,” he said. “First, they gain experience using the Mission Equipment Package operating in an unfamiliar environment. Second, they are able to complete more flying hours than they would get in a typical one-month period in Virginia, due to the current fiscal constraints. Both opportunities result in improved operational readiness for the Virginia detachment.”

The mission is federally funded by National Guard Bureau.

“Border security is important to all Americans and this is our portion of supporting the overall effort in the region,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “While we bring an important capability to mission, this also provides our crews valuable training that enhances readiness for both combat and domestic operations.”

Aviators from Detachment 1 continuously train with local first responders and have also been employed in real-world response operations.

Virginia Guard personnel joined a multi-agency search effort in the remote mountains near Deerfield Valley immediately after the Aug. 27, 2014, crash that killed the pilot of a Massachusetts National Guard F-15C Eagle. The search effort employed both Lakota and Black Hawk helicopters and additional Guard personnel coordinated the overall aviation operation.

For the last two years, Virginia Guard aviators conducted numerous training exercise over both land and water with local first responders, including the Chesterfield Fire & EMS rescue team, the designated Virginia Division I Technical Rescue Team Water Rescue Asset. The training utilized Black Hawk helicopters and also employed both configurations of the Lakota, using the mechanical hoist to lower a first responder to a simulated victim and then extracting them both. At the same time, the MEP Lakota was used to provide mission command for the operation.

The unit has also conducted training with the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Intelligence Squadron from Langley Air Force base on the use of full-motion video for incident awareness assessment during domestic operations. Most recently they conducted the Sentinel Phoenix II exercise in September 2014 at Camp Pendleton, where they worked jointly to provide live full-motion video during a simulated wildfire at the Great Dismal Swamp. The exercise was a test of the 192nd IS’ ability to capture the full motion video from the Lakota, analyze it and support first responders during a state emergency. Aviators from Detachment 1 have also conducted training with the 192nd IS on the use of video in support of Interstate 64 lane reversal mission.

The Virginia National Guard fielded the Lakota in late 2010. One of their first significant training opportunities was Global Guardian 2012, a joint Army and Air Force exercise held at the Georgia National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center in Savannah, Ga., in February 2012. More than 1,300 personnel from 20 different states including flying units, medical units and support units as well as members of the Royal Netherland Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force took part in the exercise. The missions for Global Guardian provided Detachment 1 a more complex airspace to fly their UH-72 Lakota helicopters. In addition to flying numerous VIP and troop transport missions, the Virginia aviators also flew dozens of casualty evacuation training sorties with U.S., Dutch and Canadian medical personnel that helped more than 200 personnel meet aeromedical evacuation certification standards. Many of the missions involved two or three helicopters, which provided great training for pilots serving as air mission commanders. Most of their flights in Virginia are single ship missions, so the additional challenge of planning for multiple aircraft and working with pilots from different states helped build the experience level for everyone involved in the missions.

Additional reporting by Master Sgt. A. J. Coyne and Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Photos on Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157650101832380

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More information:

192nd Intelligence Squadron trains to support state emergency operations- Sep. 23, 2014
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2014/09/23/6069/

Search effort ends after Mass. Guard F-15C crash in Virginia – Aug. 29, 2014
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2014/08/29/5948/

Va. Guard Lakota flight crews train with local first responders – June 17, 2014
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2014/06/17/5561/

192nd Intelligence Squadron works with Va. Army Guard and Va. State Police – Aug. 24, 2013
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2013/08/24/4388/

192nd Intelligence Squadron tests video streaming during Lane Reversal Exercise – July 28, 2013
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2013/07/28/4289/

Raw video: Va. Guard helicopter crew departs for Southwest Border – July 29, 2013
https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10151752690906131

Virginia Guard aviators depart to support Southwest border mission – Aug. 31, 2012
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/08/31/2033/

Virginia Soldiers, Airmen participate in Global Guardian exercise – Feb. 23, 2012
http://vko.va.ngb.army.mil/virginiaguard/news/feb12/GlobalGuardian.html