Fort Benning soldiers get safety training, perform mock air assault

benw@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 11, 2011 

Army Sgt. James Foster recalled how, on a dark night, an officer thought his UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter had landed but the aircraft was still 45 feet off the ground.

“Don’t take off your seat belt before we hit the ground,” Foster told soldiers from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Wednesday before taking off from Dickman Field.

The safety briefing was critical as 60 soldiers prepared for a mock air assault into a village near Booker Range. While half of the soldiers had combat experience riding helicopters, many had never been on the low-flying aircraft, said Capt. Caleb Phillips, commander of the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.

As part of the training, soldiers would learn how to board the helicopter and safely leave the aircraft after landing near the mock village.

The training would prepare them for an environment faced by soldiers in the Middle East.

“A lot of soldiers are entering houses and having to fire their weapons from abnormal places like attics and rooftops,” Phillips said. “We are going to push them to be able to do those abnormal things.”

Using some live rounds and some blank bullets, soldiers would be tested on clearing buildings, dealing with snipers and other obstacles. Many of the problems were faced by the 3rd Brigade, which returned from Iraq last year.

The training could save a soldier’s life.

“If you don’t do this task, you are going to die,” Phillips said. “Realism makes it click for soldiers.”

Pfc. Jonathon Ward, 22, has never been on a Black Hawk but wasn’t nervous.

“I just feel confident about everything,” said Ward, who recently arrived from Fort Knox. “I’ve got confidence in everybody around me.”

Pvt. Steven Franklin, 19, was looking forward to his first trip on a Black Hawk and getting tested.

“We’ve been practicing getting on and off a Black Hawk,” he said. “We will put it all to the test. I always wanted to do this kind of stuff.”

Spc. Nicholas Leuthauser, who served in Iraq last year and used to work as a mechanic on Black Hawks, said the helicopter is like a big roller coaster.

“It goes up fast and comes down fast,” he said.

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