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Aircraft recovery platoon first of its kind

By Capt. Jeremy Sauer

TALIFAR, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 24, 2006) – Officers of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade saw the need for a unit whose mission was totally devoted to recovering aircraft that had been downed anywhere within the brigade’s area of operation. The problem was, no such specialized unit existed within the Army, so the 96th Aviation Support Battalion had to create one.

“I wanted a platoon with DART (Downed Aircraft Recovery Team) and Aviation Support Operations within the company as its primary mission, not as additional duties,” said Maj. Joseph Croccito, Company B commander, 96th ASB, “so I pulled from within and built it.”

Crocitto activated the Aircraft Support Equipment, or ASE platoon, May 31. The platoon was designed to focus entirely on DART missions, one of the company’s five Mission Essential Task List, or METL tasks.

NCOs devise DART training

With no formal training doctrine, the ASE platoon formed, trained, and equipped itself to accomplish DART missions in support of the brigade’s more than 100 aircraft. While still performing the task of aircraft maintenance support, the platoon’s leadership had to come up with a formal training plan to accomplish the mission.

“I had recovered a downed aircraft at Fort Campbell that had undergone a hard landing,” Staff Sgt. Stephen Givens, the Soldier selected to lead the DART training as platoon noncommissioned officer in vharge said.

“Picking it up with a crane, loading it on a trailer and driving it to Fort Campbell gave me some experience. I researched DART teams, found manuals and Tactics Techniques and Procedures on it, and put together a program.”

Soldiers hand-picked for unit

Givens and ASE platoon leader Capt. Jeremy Sauer selected more then 30 Soldiers from a variety of military occupational specialties to be trained on the DART mission.

The team would be equipped with rolling stock, including recovery assets and Material Handling Equipment such as large forklifts, cranes, flatbed trailers and trucks to pull them, and several different weapon systems.

Recovery by air or ground

There are many different ways to recover a downed aircraft. There are conventional methods, such as sling loading the downed aircraft with the Universal Aerial Recovery kit. This is accomplished by attaching this kit to the downed aircraft, and pulling it out using another aircraft to sling load it to a safe area. What makes the ASE platoon unique is that it has the capability to transport a downed aircraft by ground on large flatbed trailers on a Ground Assault Convoy. ASE’s has highly trained individuals that can perform this mission safely, and proficiently and in a timely manner.

Specialized sections make it work

Ready to depart FOB Speicher in less than two hours, the Platoon’s two DART teams are extensively trained outside their primary MOS in the task of ground and aerial aircraft recovery.

There are other missions unique to the platoon. The Petroleum Oil and Lubricant, or POL, section maintains more than 300 items of POL and ensures the proper disposal of all hazardous material.

The GSE section maintains nitrogen producing carts, tractors, Aviation Ground Power Units, jacks, and maintenance stands to support the three aircraft maintenance platoons.

The Test Measure Diagnostic Equipment section takes care of the company’s calibrated tools. The tool room enables efficient aviation maintenance daily by supplying common and special tools, and ensuring all calibrated items remain current. “Making these primary duties for the platoon help the company succeed in all areas” Givens said.

DART unit needed in Iraq

Each member of the ASE Platoon serves as a subject-matter expert in his MOS and collectively improves the operational success of aviation maintenance and downed aircraft recovery, Givens said.

From concept to reality, the ASE Platoon brings specialized expertise to areas normally relegated to afterthoughts, he said

The platoon recently tested its training in performing a real-life Downed Aircraft Recovery Mission in Iraq.

“When the commander proposed this idea, I stood up and accepted the challenge of forming this unique organization,” Givens said. “No one knew if we could make it work; now no one knows how we got along without ACEs.”

(Editor’s note: Capt. Jeremy Sauer serves with the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.)

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