AUGUST 22, 2018, Krivolak Training Area, Macedonia – More than 20 Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, (3-126 AVN) of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, stationed on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, conducted aerial gunnery qualification tables under the command of U.S. Army Europe at the Krivolak Training Area in the Republic of Macedonia, Aug. 1-2.
The unit is currently deployed to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, on a nine-month peace support operations mission. The aerial gunnery training at the Krivolak Training Area in neighboring Macedonia offered a unique opportunity.
According to 3-126 AVN Battalion Commander Lt. Col. James Lonchiadis, Krivolak is an invaluable resource to get training done. His battalion is the first American unit to conduct aerial gunnery at this scale at Krivolak.
“Aerial door gunnery is probably our most vital collective training event,” said Lonchiadis. “During gunnery we forged great partnerships with Macedonia-facilitating interoperability between two countries in and around the Balkans.”
At Krivolak, 14 crew chiefs fired 1,200 rounds of ammunition each (31,000 rounds total) from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, and were qualified on day and night firing and dual-door gunnery.
First Lt. Andrew Grinham, platoon leader with 3-126 AVN, noted how accommodating the Army of the Republic of Macedonia was during the training.
“They were more than helpful,” said Grinham. “They were really excited to work with the United States and to see three Black Hawk helicopters land at their range.”
Gunnery Table 1 consisted of familiarization training to qualify 3-126 AVN crews on loading and firing M240H machine guns. Table 1 was conducted on the ground at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo prior to departure to the Republic of Macedonia. Single ship and multi-ship aerial gunnery from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters was then conducted at Krivolak.
“The Krivolak range is awesome,” said Grinham. “It’s the first time that we’d ever shot down there. We didn’t get caught up in a lot of the same rules we’d see at some places like Fort Drum. Our time was used more efficiently.”
Cpl. Dan Bourque, a two-year crew chief with the 3-126 AVN and a door gunner during the exercise, appreciated how the different terrain in the Republic of Macedonia, with mountains and valleys, added a new element to the training for the crew members.
“We do a lot of base tasks, helicopter bucket, sling loads-it’s a lot easier to conduct at home,” said Bourque. “Gunnery takes a lot of effort on the planning aspect. It was neat to put it all together in a culminating event.”
The training concept was designed to model a combat scenario, with a mission to rapidly refuel, reload and return an aircraft to the fight.
“It was a great experience,” said Bourque. “We only get this training once a year, so it was really valuable to get more hands-on training with the gun, loading, unloading, maintenance on the weapons, accuracy and overall performance.”
While the training cycle at Krivolak ended after a few days for the 3-126 AVN, the unit’s support mission for 100 Cavalry Troopers from 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment at Krivolak did not. The Troopers were on ground for gunnery training from Aug. 1-18. One helicopter left Camp Bondsteel daily for the duration, transporting personnel, weapons and other necessary equipment to the range, ensuring mission success.
By Sgt. Casey Hustin