Assault exercise charges up troops for real combat
Stars and Stripes June 10, 2003
Under the patter of helicopter rotors and a squall of South Korean dust, Second Infantry Division soldiers dropped into position behind enemy lines and stormed a river’s edge, for a mock nighttime air assault near Camp Casey in South Korea.
Dust and static-charged sparks encased Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters as they loaded and ferried Humvees, trucks, a combat ambulance and hundreds of rifle and anti-tank company soldiers into position.
The exercise, held last week, allowed soldiers to practice a realistic fast attack at night.
“It’s an excellent training for soldiers,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Beaton, with the HACS-3 of the 503rd Infantry Battalion. “We can move behind enemy lines quickly. An air-assault battalion is one of the most lethal we have in the military.”
The exercise taught soldiers to load and unload equipment and overtake an enemy in the dark. The training reinforced basic infantry skills — command, communications and synchronization — and tested the soldiers’ ability to move across hilly terrain and broken roads.
Small arms, machine guns, tanks and anti-aircraft and armor weapons supported them.
“It tests all infantry skills,” said Capt. Chip Horn, company commander of the Dogg Company, 1st Battery, 503rd Infantry Regiment Air Assault. “Learning how to adapt on the move.”
The training was intensified by MILES — the multiplied integrated laser engagement system — which uses lasers on weapons and receptors to simulate real shots.
A sensor on a soldier’s helmet or uniform detects a hit from a weapon and sounds a buzzer, Horn said. Soldiers then open a sealed card they carry that tells them the nature and extent of their injuries. Medics must respond in the time indicated or that person dies or faces other casualties, Horn said.
Soldiers said the realism helps get the best feel possible for combat, short of actual battle.
“Your blood gets pumping,” said Sgt. Nigel Simon, stinger crewmember with the 5-5 Air Defense Artillery, Bravo Battery. “You get off the helicopter and just go. It’s pretty realistic.”
The training is even more exciting for new soldiers, Simon said. “For a lot of them, it’s the first time they’re getting to fly.”
“I’m excited and ready to get out there,” said Pfc. Robert Hartwell, a gunner who recently arrived in South Korea. It was his first air assault and first time in a helicopter.
The MILES system reinforces a real risk of death.
“You can’t really fake what’s going on,” said Simon, who said he’s been “killed” in past air assaults by a sniper he never saw.
“You hear a shot go off and your buzzer goes off. You look around and don’t even know what’s happened.”
But this time around, “We’re going to make it alive,” Hartwell predicted.
“They are not going to get us,” Simon added. “We’ll do some killing. But not dying.”
A real shocker
Transporting vehicles and equipment to the attack position is a major piece of the air assault. Humvees and trucks are readied and attached, or slingloaded, to Black Hawks and Chinooks and flown to the attack destination.
Soldiers secure the vehicles. When the helicopters arrive, “hookers” jump atop the vehicles and attach special hooks to their bottoms.
Then they jump off to safety — at least most of the time.
“In five seconds, the rotors of the aircraft create a lot of static electricity,” Beaton said. “It’s enough to knock that soldier 50 feet.”
Hookers must use an extender, or a special probe, to avoid the charged air.
They also must deal with a hovering helicopter, heavy drafts and the pressure of securely attaching an expensive, several-ton vehicle.
A second soldier stands and braces each hooker to steady him against gusting rotor wash.
“If it was just one person up there, it’d blow him off,” Beaton said.
Helicopter arrivals can be a little intimidating, said Pfc. Travis Hilderbrand, with Headquarters Company Support for the 1st of the 503rd at Camp Casey.
“We’ve had some occasions when it’s come too close and we’ve had to lie down” to avoid being squashed, Hilderbrand said. “That was pretty scary.”
When helicopters are directly overhead, the space around the hookers is calm. But once the vehicles are attached, people race off fast — sometimes a little too fast, as one sergeant found in April.
Hilderbrand was bracing him and after the connection was made he jumped to safety, leaving the sergeant to tangle in the sling legs.
He got caught and broke his ankle.
It wasn’t really anyone’s fault, Hilderbrand said, just part of the job’s dangerous nature.
But that doesn’t mean the work isn’t great, he added. “I like it. It’s the best thing you get to do in support.”