VNG aviation battalion conducts aerial gunnery in N.C.

Crew chiefs from Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division conduct aerial door gunnery from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters March 6, 2020, at Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic in Atlantic, North Carolina. Soldiers trained under both day and night conditions and fired around 70,000 rounds. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

ATLANTIC, North Carolina — Virginia National Guard flight crews and support personnel assigned to 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division traveled south to Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic in Atlantic, North Carolina, for aerial door gunnery from their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters Feb. 29 – March 8, 2020. Planning for the event took upwards of six months and resulted in all eligible crew chiefs earning their aerial door gunnery qualification. 

“All in all, it was a very complex training period,” said Lt. Col. James Sheldon, commander of 2-224th. “We accomplished all desired end states and did it with zero incidents. I’m very proud of all of them.” 

Staff Sgt. Ryan Datama, noncommissioned officer in charge of the training, explained that aerial door gunnery is an annual requirement for flight crews. He said the Soldiers first familiarized themselves with the M240 machine gun on the ground. Once proficient on the ground, the crews took to the skies and qualified both day and night. 

“In basic ground gunnery, I get my foundation,  get a stable platform, good grip and everything and then I fire my weapon and it’s pretty easy to get those rounds on target,” Datema said. “In aviation gunnery, I have to take a complex combat machine, communicate positively with a crew, exchange information and employ that weapons system to maximize its fire power on the enemy in three dimensional space.”

Both Datama and Sheldon said the movement to North Carolina provided more than just an opportunity to qualify on aerial door gunnery. 

“It allows us to exercise our leadership skills and the planning process,” Datama said, explaining that he relied on lessons learned last year to plan for this year’s training. He said he relied on U.S. Army doctrine to develop a playbook. 

“It’s designed to make you as efficient as possible,” Datema said. 

“They have put a lot of time and effort into this,” Sheldon said. “They’re working in an unfamiliar environment, operating in and around different rules to get it done and to get it done safely.”

He said the training sites down there also allows for training opportunities that aren’t available in Virginia. 

“Being able to do multi-ship and fire out of both sides of the aircraft, that’s something we can’t do here,” Sheldon explained.  

The experience also allowed support personnel to run real-world  missions, with fuelers operating a forward arming and refueling point, or FARP, and food service specialists serving up two hot meals a day. 

For Pfc. Levi Scott, the training in North Carolina was his first non-drill training experience since graduation from advanced training back in October. 

“This is something completely different than what I’ve ever done before,” Scott said, “I love it.” 

In total, the crews fired around 70,000 rounds while their fuelers pumped around 10,000 gallons of fuel. 

“I’m super proud,” Datema said. “It’s been a great training experience.”

Crew chiefs from Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division conduct aerial door gunnery from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters March 6, 2020, at Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic in Atlantic, North Carolina. Soldiers trained under both day and night conditions and fired around 70,000 rounds. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)