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Pfc. Frank Pinguelo, of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, attacks targets from a Black Hawk helicopter Thursday at Rodriguez Range, South Korea. Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache helicopter gunners all had their chance to fire last week at the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade's gunnery practice. The aviators also trained for ground convoy operations.

Pfc. Frank Pinguelo, of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, attacks targets from a Black Hawk helicopter Thursday at Rodriguez Range, South Korea. Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache helicopter gunners all had their chance to fire last week at the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade's gunnery practice. The aviators also trained for ground convoy operations. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Pfc. Frank Pinguelo, of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, attacks targets from a Black Hawk helicopter Thursday at Rodriguez Range, South Korea. Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache helicopter gunners all had their chance to fire last week at the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade's gunnery practice. The aviators also trained for ground convoy operations.

Pfc. Frank Pinguelo, of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, attacks targets from a Black Hawk helicopter Thursday at Rodriguez Range, South Korea. Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache helicopter gunners all had their chance to fire last week at the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade's gunnery practice. The aviators also trained for ground convoy operations. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Black Hawk crews from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment reload ammunition and change crewmembers during gunner attack training runs Thursday at Rodriguez Range, South Korea.

Black Hawk crews from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment reload ammunition and change crewmembers during gunner attack training runs Thursday at Rodriguez Range, South Korea. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — Spc. Jonathan Basler likens helicopter gunnery in January to flying into a frozen hurricane.

The doors on each side of the Black Hawk are open so gunners can hit the targets that lie 50 to 100 feet below them.

For a passenger, the wind whips at first, and then feels more like a constant, solid object pressing against the body.

But unless Army scientists can create a miniature woolly mammoth and train it to fire a machine gun, it’s up to soldiers clad in gas masks and layers of cotton and synthetics to eliminate enemy threats from the air.

“When your face goes numb and you can’t feel your hands — beautiful,” said a smiling Basler, a Cincinnati native with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment’s Bravo Company.

Basler, a Black Hawk crew chief, and other members of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade spent the past week firing from Chinook, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters at Rodriguez Range. The aviation soldiers also conducted ground convoy training, something even aviators could be called on to do if deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

However, getting aircraft up in the sky is what these soldiers signed up to do; it’s more labor- intensive in the winter, crew chiefs say.

The workdays get longer as maintenance tasks increase. Seals can burst and fluids must be checked regularly in the cold, soldiers said.

The damper — a critical piece that allows the blades to flex forward in flight — needed repair on one helicopter Wednesday, said crew chief Pfc. Robert Delgado of Fayetteville, N.C.

Meanwhile, the gunners get away from the simulators and get to shoot lead at real targets.

Gunners can use more typical stock or butterfly triggers, depending on the weapon and situation. They fire day and night.

They also fire a lot more rounds than during a soldier’s typical ground qualifications, said Pfc. Ever Benavides of Dallas.

“I feel like it’s a little more fun instead of going to the M-16 range, where you’re just firing in prone and standing (positions),” said Benavides, a crew chief with experience on the guns.

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