Va. Guard aviation battalion trains at Fort Pickett

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command maintain, fly and fuel UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters July 17, 2015, at the Blackstone Army Airfield near Fort Pickett, Va., during their two-week annual training period. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command maintain, fly and fuel UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters July 17, 2015, at the Blackstone Army Airfield near Fort Pickett, Va., during their two-week annual training period. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command took to the skies, fields and training sites of Fort Pickett during their two-week annual training, held July 11-25, 2015.

“The main focus for our annual training this year was to safely accomplish as much collective training and [military occupational specialty qualification] training as possible,” explained Lt. Col. Thomas Hernandez, commander of the 2-224th.

Training for the aviation battalion started even before annual training officially began with door gunnery, which was held the first week in July, based on range availability. Crew chiefs fired thousands of rounds from M240 machine guns mounted on UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, taking direction and guidance from the right seat pilots on where and when targets were appearing. Crews flew both day and night iterations of the door gunnery qualification course, allowing gunners a chance to familiarize themselves with the course before qualifying. It was the first time in nearly a decade that the aviators conducted door gunnery at Fort Pickett.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command work their way through a Personnel Recovery Exercise July 20, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va. The exercise simulated a downed aircraft scenario and required Soldiers to reintegrate with their unit following the notional crash behind enemy lines. The Soldiers navigated their way through the woods of Fort Pickett through several stations, all designed to test their reintegration and survival skills. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command work their way through a Personnel Recovery Exercise July 20, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va. The exercise simulated a downed aircraft scenario and required Soldiers to reintegrate with their unit following the notional crash behind enemy lines. The Soldiers navigated their way through the woods of Fort Pickett through several stations, all designed to test their reintegration and survival skills. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

As annual training officially began, Soldiers of the aviation battalion headed to the ranges of Fort Pickett to qualify on a variety of weapons, including the M2 .50 caliber machine gun and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Soldiers also conducted individual weapons qualifications on the M4 carbine and the M9 9mm pistol.

The 2-224th Soldiers also made use of the Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer and practiced how to survive in the event of a vehicle rollover while Soldiers from the Headquarters Company worked through the Leader’s Reaction Course in small groups.

One of the significant training events during the unit’s AT was a personnel recovery exercise, designed to test the Soldiers knowledge on how to survive in the event of a downed helicopter scenario behind enemy lines.

“The idea is to train the troops to be able to navigate to friendly forces, take direction and use survival equipment and radios to make it to those friendly forces,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 3 Skylier Vanden Berg, a personnel recovery officer.

Vanden Berg explained that while the pilots tend to receive this sort of training while they’re at flight school, other members of the units, like chaplains, medics and crew chiefs don’t. Conducting the training over AT gave pilots a chance to refresh their skills and gave other unit members a chance to gain valuable life-saving skills.

The first day of the exercise was spent in the classroom where Soldiers learned how to use survival equipment and how to keep themselves, their fellow Soldiers and information that could benefit the enemy safe.

On the second and third day of the exercise, groups of Soldiers were flown out to the site of a simulated downed aircraft. There, Soldiers had to use communication equipment to send and receive messages, destroy sensitive items, go over techniques for destroying the aircraft and then evade enemy detection and move on to the next station, where they were tested on how to use various components of aircraft survival kits.

“Most units when they go to their mobilization site will receive training like this, but it’s mostly focused on the infantry style tactics and tasks and in this particular scenario, because we’re an aviation battalion, we’re trying to focus on aviation-related tasks and the use of our equipment,” Vanden Berg said. He explained that the training was specialized for them, making use of the unique equipment used by helicopter crews.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Sandston-based Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command work through obstacles at Fort Pickett’s Leader’s Reaction Course July 17, 2015. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Sandston-based Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command work through obstacles at Fort Pickett’s Leader’s Reaction Course July 17, 2015. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Following testing on the use of the survival kits, teams moved through the woods to the next station where they were tested on their medical skills ensuring they could treat their fellow Soldiers in the event of an injury during a forced landing or during enemy contact. From there, the Soldiers pushed on to the next point, calling for extraction and then moving to the extraction point where they were tested on how to signal to an aircraft or extraction vehicle and on various extraction techniques. Finally, they were extracted via aircraft and taken back to their unit for reintegration.

Soldiers of the aviation battalion also conducted fueling and maintenance operations to keep the unit’s Black Hawks flying while air crews focused on individual and collective flight tasks. At the Blackstone Army Airfield, Soldiers set up a Forward Arming and Refueling Point, or FARP, that enabled air crews to get hot fuel quickly before continuing on with their mission.

“Overall annual training went very, very well,” Hernandez said. “The team accomplished virtually all scheduled training [and all] this training was done to standard with no significant injuries.”

Additionally, Soldiers completed training on convoy operations and Combat Life Saver, conducted administrative updates for the Soldiers of the battalion and continued to prepare for an Aviation Resource Management Survey Inspection to be held later this year.

“The number one thing I hope the Soldiers of the 2-224th gained from AT is a sense of being on a great team that can accomplished any assigned task,” Hernandez said. “It was great to see individual Soldiers coming together as one team as we spent time together, working together and taking care of each other.”

More on this story:

Photos: Aviation Soldiers conduct Personnel Recovery Exercise – July 20, 2015

Photos: Aviation battalion conducts flight, fueling and maintenance operations – July 17, 2015

Photos: 2-224th Aviation Soldiers complete Leader’s Reaction Course – July 17, 2015

Photos: Brigade commander visits aviation battalion weapons training – July 16, 2015

Photos: 2-224th Aviation conducts door gunnery training – July 8, 2015