Special Operations Aviation Training Company, 160th Aviation Regiment (Special Operations) (Airborne)
The Special Operations Aviation Training Company (SOATC), based at Fort Campbell, was responsible primarily for training within the 160th Aviation Regiment (Special Operations) (Airborne), better known as 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. SOATC also provides additional capabilities. SOATC administered 16 training programs that were necessary to ensure standardization and safety within the Regiment. The training programs included initial orientation, flightinstruction, and maintenance of the Regiment's unique equipment.
To become a 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment aviator, a pilot had to serve one full tour after completion of flight school and undergo a unit-level pilot-in-command evaluation. Completion of 1,000 flight hours and 100 night-vision hours were desirable, but not required. As part of their selection process, pilots attended a weeklong assessment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where they underwent physical, mental and emotional evaluations. Physical testing includes the APFT and a Navy Class II swim test, which included swimming in full uniform with flight vest and helmet. Candidates also had to appear before a board of officers and subject matter experts who evaluated their performance and potential.
Once assigned to the Regiment, soldiers attended "Green Platoon." The Special Operations Aviation Training Company conducted this entry-level and refresher training. Green Platoon, which focused on skill development and building self-confidence and teamwork, lasted 5 weeks for enlisted soldiers and up to 8 months for rated aviators. Since the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment often flew at just 30 feet above water or treetop level, using night-vision goggles and infrared devices, Green Platoon prepared pilots in these skills. According to their assignments, soldiers were also given the opportunity to attend airborne, advanced aviation MOS, water survival, and survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) training.
When the 160th Aviation Battalion was formed in the early 1980s, there were no tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP), for Army special operations aviation. No manuals were available to clarify the specialized operations that the 160th Aviation Battalion performed, to explain the use of night-vision goggles, or to catalog the range of environmental conditions that the aviators might face. Nevertheless, the 160th's aviators and support personnel, armed only with conventional Army doctrine, the combined knowledge of its members, and a determination to succeed, joined together and learned on the job.
Unfortunately, the learn as you go approach led to a number of accidents. When the unit's accident rate spiked in 1983, a panel was formed to examine the unit's training strategy and operational tempo. When the examination was finished, the panel recommended that a separate, dedicated special operations aviation training unit be created.
By 1985, the 160th had established its first training unit, which was known as the "Green Platoon" because of the newness of its students. The Green Platoon's aviation training program was based on the Army's readiness-level training program and on aircrew training manuals. Administered by the 160th Aviation Battalion's operations officer and by instructor pilots, the new program provided a controlled environment, that is to say isolated from the demands of real world missions, in which students could learn the 160th Aviation Battalion's techniques and procedures. As the 160th received no additional personnel with which to staff the training program, the fledgling program had to be created "out of hide." That meant that whenever operations or exercises placed heavy demands on the task force's personnel assets, the Green Platoon's training was limited.
The next milestone came in July 1988, when the Selection and Training Detachment was created from assets of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Although it was still an out-of-hide organization, the Selection and Training Detachment was dedicated to training and recruiting, and its formation allowed the other companies in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to focus on mission support, knowing that their new aviators would be trained to a common high standard. In November 1988, the Selection and Training Detachment expanded its scope to include training for the enlisted members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
While the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment's training programs were quickly proving their value, the shortage of instructors remained a problem. To solve the problem, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment decided to hire Civilian Mission Instructors (CMI), who possessed the right mix of skills and experience to train the members of the unit.
The initial CMI concept involved hiring retired instructor pilots to serve for one year. If the CMI program proved to be successful at the end of the first year, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment would formalize the program. The CMI test program began in August 1990 with the hiring of 6 CMIs, 2 for each of the 3 basic aircraft designs at the time. The CMIs, all of whom were former flight-leader-qualified 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment aviators, brought with them a vast amount of experience to share with new members of the unit. In 1991, the Army Research Institute evaluated and approved the CMI program, and it soon expanded to become the primary training program for newly assigned personnel.
On 11 September 1992, the Selection and Training Detachment was provisionally redesignated the Special Operations Aviation Training Company (SOATC). The nickname "Green Platoon" stuck with it. It was equipped with at least 8 MH-6C (and possibly as many as 15), 3 MH-47D, 2 MH-47E, 3 MH-60L, and 2 MH-60K helicopters. The MH-6C aircraft were utilized for basic special operations aviation training, as well as training for AH/MH-6 types used by the Regiment. The MH-47D/E aircraft and the MH-60K/L aircraft were utilized for training with regards to those types of aircraft specifically. The MH-6C aircraft were eventually replaced by MH-6J aircraft.
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