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All in 90 seconds: Maryland National Guard runs aviation drills with Canadian counterparts

By Spc. Elizabeth Scott June 6, 2017

WAINWRIGHT, Canada -- The sky turned a bright golden color as the sun set on Camp Wainwright, Alberta, Canada, on May 25. A Maryland National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk was silhouetted against the skyline as a crew performed a hoist mission with a simulated downed pilot.

While many soldiers watched and took snapshots of the hoist exercise, two Maryland National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk crews and their Canadian counterparts prepped for their own mission nearby. They were tasked with picking up and moving the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division Soldiers to a designated location during Exercise Maple Resolve 17.

The crew finished its pre-flight briefing and found discrepancies in one of the UH-60 Black Hawk's logbook, which grounded that particular helicopter. Without missing a beat, the Soldiers moved on to get another helicopter ready for the mission.

"Having to train like this is so important to us [when] we run into these issues," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. James Murphy, the 2nd Platoon leader of C Company, 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment. "Having these problems, having to work on the fly just makes us stronger as a unit overall."

Exercise Maple Resolve, the Canadian Army's largest annual exercise, ran from May 14-29. Approximately 4,000 Canadian Armed Forces members and 1,000 service members from the U.S., Britain, Australia, and New Zealand participated in this year's exercise.

The Maryland National Guard provided aviation and medical support to the exercise, with 10 UH-60 Black Hawks and one LUH-72 Lakota helicopter.

After the aforementioned helicopter was grounded before the night mission, Soldiers from the other crew, the mechanics, and others not scheduled to fly that night pitched in to get the pre-flight checks done in a timely manner. The Soldiers worked thoroughly and efficiently to meet the deadlines needed to complete the mission.

They don't get the opportunity to work in these types of real-world air assaults often, said Sgt. Wesley Richardson, a UH-60 crew chief with the 2-224th. Many tasks they do in training are simulated. Here, they were able to move actual Soldiers, which gave the unit that type of real-action experience they needed.

With a new helicopter prepared, the crew of the UH-60 steadied themselves for the Soldiers that would be coming aboard during the training exercise.

The UH-60 Black Hawks and the Canadian CH-147 Chinooks touched down. Groups of 10th Mountain Soldiers, clutching their weapons, shouldered their rucks to file inside and anticipated a similarly efficient helicopter dismount.

The helicopters took off, the sun almost gone, and the Soldiers sat shoulder-to-shoulder with little to no room in between them. The air was crisp and cold, the blades of the helicopter cutting through the otherwise silent night.

"Ninety seconds," yelled one of the Soldiers.

"Ninety seconds," replied the Soldiers in the back.

Muscles tensed and gear shifted around as the Soldiers prepared to move out. At 60 seconds and again at 30 seconds, the Soldier called out the time.

The helicopter touched down at the landing zone, and Soldiers disembarked from both sides of the chopper in the dark. They formed a 360-degree defensive perimeter around the helicopter, lying prone with their rucksacks to provide cover in the open field. Their weapons pointed outwards, ready to engage the enemy if necessary.

Despite having to restart and prepare a new helicopter, the troop drop-off at the landing zone occurred on schedule.

Their mission complete, the Maryland National Guard helicopters took off and left the 10th Mountain Division to complete their training mission.

Richardson said the exercise gave his troops the confidence to know that they have what it takes to work with other units to complete a mission. "Everyone had their own way of doing things," he said. "To be a combined force and to basically share experiences -- what works, doesn't work -- it's very beneficial for all sides."

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