Soldiers of the 601st Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, worked together with Airmen of the 9th Airlift Wing out of McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to load HH-60M medevac helicopters onto an Air Force C-5 Galaxy July 13 at Salina Regional Airport, Salina, Kansas.
Nine HH-60Ms from the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, were transported from Salina to Afghanistan using two C-5s and one C-17 Globemaster III in several phases. The C-5s are capable of transporting four helicopters at a time.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Westscott, 601st ASB, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., said the HH-60Ms were flown out to Salina from Fort Riley where the Soldiers prepared them for transportation by securing parts and folding in the blades prior to loading them onto the aircraft. The preparation at Salina varied some from the Soldiers' previous training, but still went according to plan.
"It's a little different because we didn't do it at the location where the aircraft initially were, but the movement is going really smoothly in my opinion," Westscott said.
To prepare, Soldiers began training months ago and performing a number of different exercises to avoid mishaps, Lt. Col. Aaron McPeake, battalion commander for 601st ASB, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., said.
"We've done a couple training exercises over the past couple months to prepared for this," McPeake said. "It's a very tough mission. It's a lot of precision, making sure you get all the parts and pieces into the proper position."
Through continued training, the Soldiers have also increased the time and perfected their technique in preparing and loading the aircraft for transport, McPeake said.
"The first one took about an hour and a half," McPeake said. "Now they are done anywhere between 40 and 50 minutes. It's like a NASCAR pit crew. They keep getting faster and faster."
Once the helicopters were prepared, Soldiers and Airmen worked together to load them onto the C-5 using a tether, pulley system and manual labor to carefully guide each aircraft into place. Two Soldiers were perched on top of the helicopter to mind the blades as they were moving through the plane.
Capt. Andrew Petefish, 601st ASB, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., said the teamwork between the Soldiers and Airmen, not just while loading the aircraft but at all times, is vital to the success of the mission.
"We need them to deploy," Petefish said. "We're a joint environment right now, so anytime we can build relations with our partners is a good idea."
McPeake echoed Petefish's opinion and added the load out provided valuable experience for future operations for the Soldiers and Airmen involved.
"We're all one team, we have to work together," McPeake said. "We all wear the uniform. And it's a good opportunity for us to get some loading experience and we'll probably continue to do this over the next year."
While a majority of the preparation work was done at Fort Riley, the aircraft needed to be loaded at Salina due to the larger runway size available there, McPeake said.
Fort Riley makes use of many of the neighboring airports in Kansas, Scot Bird, Fort Riley installation transportation officer, said. Salina and Topeka are able to accommodate larger body aircraft and Manhattan can handle smaller body aircraft, putting Fort Riley in an advantageous position for operations.
"We can go any way we need to go for deployments," Bird said.
Bird said the use of Topeka, Manhattan and Salina airports comes from an initiative by the Kansas Governor's Military Council to provide support to military installations across Kansas.
McPeake said he appreciated the support of the Salina Regional Airport and emphasized the value of continued relations between Fort Riley and the neighboring airports.
"The Salina airport has been nothing but accommodating," McPeake said. "For us to be able to occupy a hangar, use this office, use the facilities, it's been absolutely fantastic."