TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Members of the 21st Airlift Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California, completed a joint training mission April 7 with Army counterparts at Yakima Training Center, Washington, to practice the skills each service would be tasked to do while deployed.
The 21st AS BEEliners flew a C-17 Globemaster III to Yakima to meet up with the U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment stationed there. The USAAAD unit is part of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Once on the ground, the two services partnered together to engage in a teaching and learning environment where they practiced loading and unloading Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters onto C-17s.
“The purpose of the training today was for loadmasters to get familiar with loading helicopter cargo alongside our joint task Army members,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Garcia, 21st AS loadmaster. “We practiced how to tie it down and calculate restraint.”
Helicopter loading is a skill requiring constant practice and fine-tuning, said Army 1st Lt. Michael Jakub, a USAAAD Black Hawk pilot.
“The Black Hawk is a $60 million piece of equipment,” he said. “You damage a blade, and that’s costing you a quarter million right there, so it’s very important. There are so many moving pieces and this is a very heavy aircraft… by itself, it’s about 15,000 pounds. Even just going up and down the (C-17) ramp, if anything snaps, it will cause a lot of damage.”
The Black Hawk is a versatile Army aircraft assigned to a wide array of missions, ranging from assault to transporting troops and cargo. Members of the USAAAD unit are assigned to the helicopter’s Medevac mission, meaning they provide aeromedical evacuation for injured soldiers and local civilians from the point of pickup to arrival at a hospital.
C-17s enable Black Hawks and their crews to complete such missions by providing them with rapid and strategic airlift to locations around the globe on short notice.
“Loading helicopters happens every day,” said Garcia. “We use (this training) in an operational atmosphere. We want to make sure the aircraft is loaded safely and taken care of.”
Among those participating in the joint training were Air Force C-17 Globemaster III pilots and loadmasters, alongside Army pilots, crew chiefs and flight paramedics.
“It’s very important and vital that we have this training,” said Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Fearnley, USAAAD Black Hawk crew chief. “Having multiple job specialties out here helps us in the long run. If we don’t know the Air Force’s loading procedures or operating procedures and they don’t know ours, we’ll show up and a mistake could happen.”
The group loaded and unloaded a Black Hawk into the waiting C-17 twice, changing the helicopter’s positioning and implementing various safety techniques with each procedure.
“I saw extra things that were added today to better safeguard the operation,” said Fearnley. “Doing this as a joint force is very beneficial.”
Though some in the group were familiar with helicopter loading techniques, others, like Army Staff Sgt. Erik Leppert, were experiencing it for the first time.
“This was my first time doing this, but it showed me what right looks like,” he said. “Should I be in this kind of situation in the future, I’ll know what to do.”
Leppert is a flight paramedic in the Black Hawk, and provides critical care for all types of injured patients during transport. Learning the responsibilities of other members of Black Hawk and C-17 aircrews helps each member learn how to fit into the mix and work as a team, he said.
“It helps the big picture,” he said. “The Army and the Air Force have always worked together closely. This maintains that cohesiveness and makes sure we know what we’re going to be doing together in the future.”
The practice and skill-building in Yakima was not only essential to each unit’s individual mission but to the overall joint mission, agreed both services.
“I think it definitely built confidence between us,” said Air Force 1st Lt. Jason Finney, a 21st AS pilot. “We get taught certain ways to load and unload, and they get taught certain ways to load and unload. It helps our coordination with the Army so the next time we load it in real life, it’s going to go a lot smoother and safer.”
Furthermore, working with one other aided each service in learning and teaching new skills – skills that are critical in operational settings.
“Any opportunity we can get to work with our sister branches is a great opportunity,” said Jakub. “The higher you go, the more the branches work together to provide support and fulfill the mission of protecting this country. I think the earlier we can get comfortable working with other branches and learning how to cohesively work the better.”
“It’s been great training for the Air Force, and great training for us,” he said. “Overall, it’s been a very, very positive experience.”