Virginia National Guard Soldiers provide aviation support in Guatemala

Sgt. 1st Class Stacy Johnson, a crew chief with the 2nd Battalion, 224 Aviation Regiment prepares a UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter for a spritz cleaning after having flown near a volcano during Operation Beyond the Horizon April 28, 2014. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Alejandro S. Smith-Antuna)

Sgt. 1st Class Stacy Johnson, a crew chief with the 2nd Battalion, 224 Aviation Regiment prepares a UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter for a spritz cleaning after having flown near a volcano during Operation Beyond the Horizon April 28, 2014. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Alejandro S. Smith-Antuna)

ZACAPA, Guatemala – Roars of the UH-60 Black Hawk turbines can be heard throughout the day as members of the Virginia Army National Guard’s Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment perform flight operations in support of Task Force Oso throughout Guatemala during Operation Beyond the Horizon 2014.

The 2-224th has been the sole rotary wing aviation support for the task force. While the primary purpose of the unit is casualty evacuation, they also find time to train themselves and serve other roles supporting the Beyond the Horizon 2014 mission.

Soldiers from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment pick up mail and personnel in Guatemala City, Guatemala, April 28, 2014, for transport to Zacapa, Guatemala. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment pick up mail and personnel in Guatemala City, Guatemala, April 28, 2014, for transport to Zacapa, Guatemala, where the Soldiers are acting as the sole rotary wing aviation asset in support of Operation Beyond the Horizon. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“CASEVAC, VIP transportation and medical evacuations have been the most common of our flight operations,” said Sgt. Katy Martin, the flight operations noncommissioned officer in charge. “The task force will usually put in a request and we help out best as we can. Majority of April has been VIP transportation.”

Approximately 110 Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers will support the humanitarian exercise from the beginning of April to the end of June. Personnel are scheduled to rotate in and out of country in two-week cycles.

While providing aviation support, the 2-224th have provided training for the task force medics and Guatemalan troops. One area of focus has been “hot loads” that involve loading on to a helicopter while the engine and propellers are running. Before undergoing a hot load, Soldiers will practice with cold loads, engines off, to familiarize themselves with the craft and loading procedures.

“We’ve taken the Guatemalans soldiers and have trained them also for hot loads,” Martin said. “We’ve done the same with the task force, training the medics how to do hot loads on the helicopters to ensure the fastest possible MEDEVACs and CASEVACS in case the need arises.”

This training, with the Guatemalan troops, is an example of the Beyond the Horizon team’s dedication to working with our host nation partners in their efforts to help the people of the nation.

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, talks with Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment in Zacapa, Guatemala, April 28, 2014, where the Soldiers are acting as the sole rotary wing asset in support of Operation Beyond the Horizon, a joint foreign military interaction and humanitarian exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, talks with Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment in Zacapa, Guatemala, April 28, 2014. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs

“We’ve been able to take advantage of the area to conduct high altitude training, not something we’d typically get to do in Virginia,” Capt. Benjamin Zahm, commander of the first rotation of 2-224 Soldiers stated. “We’ve got small mountains back home compared to the ones in Guatemala. We’re able to test out the helicopters and see what they’re capable of when going over large mountains at high altitudes.”

The aviation crew has a certain amount of missions everyday, usually given to them by the task force, which can be included into their training flights that day.

“I love aviation!” Martin said, “I like being able to make sure the pilots are safe and successful with our missions. I have definitely learned a lot from being down here.”

Virginia National Guard senior leaders visited 2-224th Soldiers April 28, 2014. Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, Col. Marti J. Bissell, 91st Troop Command commander, Maj. Kevin Warfield, 2-224th Aviation commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Clifton White, 2-224th Aviation command sergeant major, all traveled to Guatemala where they received an overview of the Beyond the Horizon mission, a tour of the forward operating site where the Soldiers are stationed, and a briefing on the mission and accomplishments of the Virginia Soldiers.

“This mission allows the Soldiers to perform their jobs in an unfamiliar environment while simultaneously providing a valuable support function for an important humanitarian mission,” said Maj. Kevin Warfield, commander of the 2-224th.  “The mission positively improves Soldier morale as the Soldiers realize the impact of the aviation support they provide to the Task Force and the people of Guatemala.”

At the time of the senior leader visit, the aviators had transported 278 passengers, conducted more than 90 flights, pumped approximately 10,000 gallons of fuel and completed 27 total missions.

During the visit, Long stated he was proud of the work the regiment had done so far and presented coins to members of the unit for their hard work and dedication.

“We’re all proud of you all and what you do. I know a lot of you have grown up with being in that helicopter, and when I fly I feel real comfortable and I know I’m in good hands, and I also know there’s a lot of folks behind the guys and girls that are flying the helicopters” Long said. ” We worry about you all, we love you to death and we’re very, very proud of you.”

The final part of the senior leader visit included an aerial tour of several of the engineering sites where other task force units are building schools and clinics.

Members of the Virginia Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment land a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter after transporting Soldiers to Guatemala city during Operation Beyond the Horizon April 28, 2014. The 2-224 Aviation Regiment's primary purpose is for casualty evacuation, but they also run personnel transport and other tasks given to them by the Task Force. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Alejandro S. Smith-Antuna)

Members of the Virginia Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment land a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter after transporting Soldiers to Guatemala city during Operation Beyond the Horizon April 28, 2014. The 2-224 Aviation Regiment’s primary purpose is for casualty evacuation, but they also run personnel transport and other tasks given to them by the Task Force. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Alejandro S. Smith-Antuna)

Story by Sgt. Alejandro Smith-Antuna, 119th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Additional reporting by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Photos: Va. Guard senior leaders visit aviators in Guatemala – April 28, 2014
Photos: Va. Guard Aviators load out for Guatemala humanitarian mission – March 27, 2014