Written by Sgt. Duncan Brennan
101st Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs
Fort Campbell, KY – In preparation for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s upcoming brigade-level air assault exercise, the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), held an air commanders brief at 5th Battalion, 101st CAB headquarters April 2nd.
The briefing was held to inform commanders, pilots, and crews about the roles they would play during Exercise Golden Eagle. The exercise will include lifts of equipment and personnel and integrate all aspects of a full-spectrum CAB in conjunction with ground forces.
The 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) has built a reputation on integrating the capabilities of Army aviation and ground forces through the execution of air assaults. This method of moving equipment and personnel may appear relatively simple, but brigade-level air assaults are complex operations requiring extensive planning, training, and rehearsals.
“One of the hurdles was that we have not done an operation of this size in a while,” said Maj. Jesse Blanton, 5-101st CAB operations officer. “Many of the planners had not planned an operation of this magnitude in some time. Planning the smaller air assaults allowed us to develop the processes that we have used to plan Golden Eagle.”
The challenges were not only on the aviation side. As with any air assault operation, the mission requirements of the ground commander have to be met also.
“[We need to] make sure the ground-force commander’s mission and intent are met,” said Maj. Matthew S. O’Neill, 3rd BCT aviation officer. “We also need to stay within the capabilities and limitations of the aircraft.”
With any operation where aircraft are involved, safety is a primary concern. During Exercise Golden Eagle, there will be multiple aircraft flying close to each other, some while carrying equipment via sling load. In addition to having numerous aircraft conducting missions, there will also be live-fire exercises being conducted by artillery units.
“There will be approximately 40 aircraft in the air simultaneously,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brian McKnight, 5-101st CAB standardization pilot. “There will be more than 30 sling loads and more than 1,000 personnel moved on the main day of the exercise. We also have to deconflict our air space with what the artillery is doing. The senior aviators have come together and used their experience to predict where the friction points are going to be and put plans in place to mitigate those risk factors.”
Despite the myriad of moving parts and often tedious complexity of timing and synchronization necessary for success, having an air assault heritage in the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) proved to be a major asset in the planning of Golden Eagle.
“We are the 101st and we have the Gold Book and we are the gold standard for air assaults,” said Blanton. “Working with the Rakkasans [3rd BCT] and developing that relationship through training progression has been instrumental. Those relationships that we’ve developed on down to the platoon level including academic instruction, load training, and day and night air assaults has paid dividends and will help us in facilitating [Exercise] Golden Eagle.”
Working with the ground forces has not only inspired the pilots’ confidence in the ground forces, it has also shown how 101st embodies the one-team, one-fight concept.
With Exercise Golden Eagle scheduled to take place April 8th, weather permitting, final preparations are being made to ensure maximum readiness of the air crews and the ground forces. There is a sense of enthusiasm among the pilots and knowledge that Golden Eagle will be part of the 101st’s legacy.
“Everyone’s ready for Golden Eagle,” said McKnight. “A lot of training went into this and the pilots and crews want to see their work pay off.”
Exercise Golden Eagle is about more than just training in the world’s only air assault division. This operation is about updating the Gold Book, which is the doctrine by which air assault missions are governed. The lessons learned will be part of the 101st’s influence across the Army.
“We’re looking forward to getting back to basics and doing these brigade-level air assaults on a more routine basis,” said Blanton. “The current Gold Book is three-years old; part of this process is rewriting that manual. When we go down to the Joint Readiness Training Center later this year, and we have the Gold Book dated June 2014, everyone down there will know that they had a contribution to build upon the air assault legacy.”