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Sun., Oct. 4
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Fort Drum Kiowa helicopter unit prepares for future operations at training exercise


FORT DRUM — After training for more than a decade to deploy for locations such as Afghanistan and Iraq, aviation soldiers from post took to the field to prepare for what might come next.

Leadership of the 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry said that unlike the two Middle Eastern countries, where the military infrastructure has been established for years, future operations likely will require soldiers to quickly secure and establish their own operation centers.

“We’re preparing for anything from humanitarian relief to World War III, and that’s quite different from what we’ve done the last 12 years,” said Lt. Col. Erick W. Sweet, commander of the squadron, a part of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

The approximately 350 soldiers of the squadron, which was not selected to deploy to Afghanistan, have used their 10-day exercise to train in the inclement field conditions and take up roles they haven’t had for years, from setting up their own tents to running guard duty to digging their own foxholes.

The training is the Kiowa helicopter-centric squadron’s first local field training exercise since 2007.

On Monday afternoon, during a brief tour of the exercise for the Times deep into the post’s training range area, a pair of the squadron’s helicopters could be seen maneuvering across a nearby field, before quickly zipping over the squadron’s flight line and series of tents. Aviation exercises done during the training included recovering downed aircraft and setting up forward arming and refueling points.

On the ground, soldiers have been tested with ambush scenarios during convoys exiting their operation center, and other security challenges at their perimeter.

Squadron’s Command Sgt. Maj. Sean P. Ward described the exercise as a return to basics from when he joined the Army.

“It’s back to the fieldcraft,” he said. “Back in my day, everyone knew that. Now it’s getting back to that.”

Col. Sweet said the long gap between field operations has meant that “a lot of the skills have atrophied” for his soldiers.

“You do find yourself having to teach on that mainline level,” he said.

The squadron also has had to deal with a steady downpour of heavy rain that has limited visibility and turned areas of its operations center into a quagmire of mud that has caught multiple vehicles.

“It makes soldiers realize the value of the wet gear,” Sgt. Maj. Ward said.

He said the exercise also gave soldiers a better understanding of the necessary supplies for extended field operations, which they didn’t have to think about in Afghanistan or Iraq.

“Now we know what we need to sustain ourselves,” Sgt. Maj. Ward said.

Col. Sweet said open-ended field training exercises like the one they are undertaking could be a much more common occurrence as military presence winds down in Afghanistan.

“This is the norm for the future,” Col. Sweet said.

The exercise is scheduled to end today.

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