The repetitive whoosh of helicopter blades is heard as two AH-64E Apache attack helicopters land on board the deck of the Navy Expeditionary Landing Base ship USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3). U.S. forces from both the Army and Navy are together for a special mission, combined flight operations at sea.
The U.S. Army has various rotary-wing aircraft it can use in conjunction with its sister services.
“We have Chinooks, Apaches and Blackhawk Helicopters,” said Lt. Col. Margarat Stick, the commander of the multifunctional Aviation Task Force. “As part of the immediate response force or IRF, we are always at the nation’s call.”
The U.S. Army’s aviation assets have been conducting joint interoperability training missions on board Puller throughout March and April.
“Task Force Saber is here demonstrating the force projection capability of the United States Army when joined with its sister service, the Navy,” said Stick. “That allows us the opportunity to conduct operations at a greater distance.”
Combining airpower with naval assets is a force multiplier.
“We are enabling the AH-64E’s to be able to operate from a maritime base, extending their reach,” said Capt. Scott Hattaway, the commanding officer of Puller. “It brings their expertise to the water.”
The expertise that is brought to the water by the Army is mainly in part to the Army Rotary Wing Pilots.
“I’ve been flying for 15 years now,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jim Morrison, a test pilot instructor with Task Force Saber. “This was not my first-time landing on a ship, it was easy, and the guys on the deck were very professional.”
Sailors from the U.S. Navy operate the deck of the ship where aircraft land.
“There are 100 naval personnel that run the tactical side of things,” said Hattaway.
“The Navy counterparts on the deck I have nothing but praise for,” added Morrison. “They are absolutely professional and good at what they do.”
Puller Sailors are responsible for all operations on the deck.
“My job here is to launch and recover all aircraft leaving the ship,” said ABH2 Juan Kilcosal, a U.S. Navy aviation boatswain’s mate handler on Puller. “We use hand signals to communicate with the pilots to lift them up and off the ship to do whatever they have to do.”
The AH-64E Apache gunships that Task Force Saber brought to Puller conducted aerial gunnery training. This training utilized the 30mm cannon on the AH-64E, engaging a floating target.
“The AH-64E is an attack reconnaissance platform that allows the U.S. Army to bring both reconnaissance and firepower to the commander on the ground and, in this case, the naval commander,” said Stick.
Hattaway stated that it was a pleasure having the Army Soldiers on board. Hattaway looks forward to more joint operations with the Army in the future.
CW3 Reginald Oliver, the quality control officer for Task Force Saber, said the operation shows proof of concept and exhibits the Army’s ability to launch rotary assets from a Naval Platform wherever that platform may be located.
Stick went on to say the U.S. Army can use Naval platforms as lily pads to expand their operational range along with providing security in its region of operation. She added this security acts as a deterrent for any threats against the U.S. and allied watercraft.
Hattaway stressed combining the strengths of the Army and Navy makes the joint team ready for any fight.
The Soldiers of Task Force Saber fall under Task Force Spartan which is currently being led by the New York Army National Guard’s 42nd Infantry Division.
The mission is a unique, multi-component organization, made up of active Army and National Guard units, rounded out by U.S. Army Reserve support units.
Through Operation Spartan Shield (OSS), Task Force Spartan maintains a U.S. military posture in Southwest Asia sufficient to strengthen our defense relationships and build partner capacity.