By Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Mills
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 22, 2008 - As grand accomplishments go, a Task Force Marne aviation brigade's 200th combat air assault mission during their current deployment to Iraq went off with as little fanfare as possible. An uneventful mission is just fine with the pilots of the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, air assault unit.
"For us it went exactly as planned," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nigel Huebscher, the mission's flight lead. "We hit the 'time on target' spot on the [landing zone] and performed the mission as close to flawlessly as we can."
The first 12 months of the 3rd CAB's 15-month deployment in Multinational Division Center has seen many records knocked down -- total flight hours of 100,000 and fuel pumped of more than 10 million gallons, to name a couple. Most of these records reflect the 3rd CAB's high operational tempo.
During the unit's deployment to Iraq in 2005, 4-3rd Aviation Regiment soldiers executed more than 110 air assault missions in their first 12 months, said Army Capt. Conor Stilwell, assistant operations officer.
Based on the high number of air assault missions during this deployment, Huebscher said, the 4-3rd Aviation Regiment has achieved an operating standard that promotes uneventful, successful missions.
"To go along with that, the people we have flying know what they need to do to get the mission done," he said.
Many of the unit's pilots and crewmembers were deployed to Iraq in 2005, and many were assigned to 101st Airborne Division, bringing a wealth of experience to the fight, Stilwell said.
Along with the experience, new systems and technology are in place for this deployment, making execution of air assault missions much easier.
"I would say that all the assets we have available to us do very much streamline the process and allow us to maximize our time, and gives us time to better prepare," Huebscher said.
Those assets include advances in communication, which have made planning much easier, Stilwell said. The more-efficient communication, including holding meetings with visual references such as maps online over a secure network, has allowed the unit to plan and execute several missions at the same time.
Sometimes, Stilwell said, the calendar will be stacked with concurrent missions in various phases of planning with different ground brigade combat teams in Task Force Marne, demanding an efficient process.
Planning air assault missions is usually a three-day process. The ground brigade combat team creates a basic plan for a particular air assault mission and submits it to Task Force Marne for approval. The ground team and 4-3rd Aviation Regiment then meet to discuss mission coordination and aviation support.
Taking that information, the aviators work up a plan of support and, usually within 24 hours, present it to the brigade combat team in an air mission brief that combines the ground unit's expectations and what the aviation unit can deliver.
"Basically, it shows the plan in simple steps so no one can say they don't understand the plan," Stilwell said.
Once the plan has been finalized, aircrews get together to go over the mission to ensure everyone, from crew chiefs to pilots, understands it.
All of this planning and these meetings were more difficult in the past, Stilwell said. Before this, the air mission commander and flight lead would have to travel to the ground unit's location for meetings or do it over the phone. Now, with the ability to have meetings over the secure network, planning has become more extensive and clear, which helps the operations tempo and creates the setting for 3rd CAB to reach its 200th air assault in 12 months.
"The process has gotten smoother," Stilwell said. "Everybody knows the deal."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Mills serves in the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs Office.)