SHINDAND AIR BASE, Afghanistan (12/2/13) - Army
National Guard aviation units are bringing a new level of experience to Task Force Nightmare, which makes up the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division here, said the task force commander.
"The amount of experience within these two companies is incredible," said Army Lt. Col Fred Dufault commander of TF Nightmare. "The Soldiers and leaders are great at anticipating needs of the task force."
The task force includes an AH-64 Apache company – Company C, 1st Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, with the Missouri Army National Guard, and a medical evacuation company – Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, spread between Washington, California, and Nevada Army National Guard.
As TF Nightmare took over operations from the outgoing task force, much of the maintenance and mission continuity expertise fell to the shoulders of the Army Guard units.
These Soldiers have probably seen it all before, and have the experience and wisdom to make the right choices, said Dufault.
"Neither company is one to keep its knowledge or experience to themselves, either," Dufault said. "Each company brings its unique strengths to the Nightmare family freely."
Many of the Soldiers in 135th Avn. Regt. are full time employees of the Missouri National Guard, doing the same job here as they would back home.
"Most of my Soldiers are depot-level maintenance technicians who fix these helicopters full time back home," said Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Carter, an Apache maintenance platoon sergeant with Co. C, 1st Bn., 135th Avn. Regt. "Others have prior experience in different airframes and maintenance jobs."
The medics in Co. C, 1st Bn., 168th Avn. Regt., are much the same, with most working full time in either emergency medical services or in the medical field back in their home states.
"Out of the 25 medics in my company, 19 are either paramedics or registered nurses who work in the medical field full time back home," said Army 1st Sgt. Joseph W. Loader, himself a combat medic and a certified paramedic. "I even have a trained physician's assistant filling in as medic."
The 168th Avn. Regt. Soldiers are "old hands" at the combat aviation brigade's back wall medic program as well.
The program places an additional medic inside the medical evacuation helicopter to help care for patients which is "a huge benefit," said Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Neal, the company standardization medic.
"Back home, if you call 911 for a homeless drunk, you get four paramedics and a fire truck," Neal said. "If you don't treat a patient the right way on the battlefield, death might come later instead of sooner, or a patient's quality of life after recovery might be worse."
Two medics are better at evaluating a patient's condition and providing the proper treatment on the way to the surgeons, Neal added.
For 135th Avn. Regt. maintainers, it's about showing TF Nightmare maintainers the tricks learned through long experience and practice.
"Back home, we maximize our flying hours on the Apaches by replacing the cheap parts more often to make the expensive parts last longer," said Army 1st Sgt. Thomas Hintenach. "We're used to doing more with less, and we know that we can do a maintenance engineering call, which is outside depot-level maintenance, for a part to repair it instead of replacing it."
That translates to higher mission readiness.
"Our Soldiers bring that knowledge and continuity forward," said Hintenach. It's helped us and the task force fly an average of 550 Apache hours per month and maintain the (UH-60) Blackhawks to a high readiness in support of Regional Command (West) ground forces."
"We put a lot of love into (the mission and) feel wedded to the aircraft," said Carter. "As soon as an Apache lands, my Soldiers are out checking it for faults and talking with the pilots about the flight."
Dufault said he believes in these "quiet professionals" bringing their civilian experience to the fight, and respects and trusts them implicitly.
"We are turning a nine day or less, problem free phase maintenance on the Apache, which is unheard of, and I truly believe the medevac company is the most experienced out there and is at the top their game," Dufault said.