Task Force Diamond Head’s experience, adaptability thwarts indirect attacks

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By Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – “Indirect fire” refers to the firing of a weapon without a direct line-of-sight between the weapon and its target; it’s indiscriminate and it’s deadly.

Eliminating this threat near Balad, Iraq, is a priority for aviation Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment “Task Force Diamond Head,” 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, working in conjunction with ground force Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment “Black Lions,” 1st Infantry Division.

Balad is located in the heart of what was once considered the power-base of Saddam Hussein. According to Lt. Col. David Francis, battalion commander and UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, 2-25th Aviation Regiment, TF Diamond Head, U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces have historically been targeted by indirect fire in this area in the form of mortars and rockets since the early beginnings of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lieutenant Colonel David Francis, battalion commander and UH 60 Black Hawk pilot, 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Diamond Head, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, conducts a final mission brief with Black Lions infantrymen.
Lieutenant Colonel David Francis, battalion commander and UH60 Black Hawk pilot, 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Diamond Head, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, conducts a final mission brief with infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment Black Lions, 1st Infantry Division, moments before a mission near Balad, Iraq. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs)

Task Force Diamond Head’s aerial reaction force operations are changing historical trends.

“[ARF] operations are a platform we developed in response to the ground force commander’s aggressive commitment to defeat IDF originating from communities near Balad,” said Lt. Col. Francis. “The purpose of the mission-set is simple: defeat IDF and we have had a demonstrable impact in and around Balad. Since we began ARF operations, we have had record-level lows of IDF attacks.”

First Lieutenant Beaux Lane is TF Diamond Head’s senior intelligence officer who conducts enemy threat analysis. According to 1st Lt. Lane, in areas that had been receiving multiple rounds of IDF events every week, the number of attacks has decreased by over sixty percent.

Private Shelby Webster, infantryman, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment Black Lions, 1ID, prior to being inserted onto a farm near Balad, Iraq.
Private Shelby Webster, infantryman, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment Black Lions, 1st Infantry Division, casts a look over his shoulder just prior to being inserted onto a farm near Balad, Iraq, with his squad during an aerial reaction force operation by a 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Diamond Head, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, Black Hawk helicopter. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs)

Task Force Diamond Head’s ARF operations integrate aviation and ground force assets by linking TF Diamond Head’s OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and flight crews with infantry Soldiers. ARF operations provide the capability of scouting, transporting, inserting and extracting Soldiers virtually anywhere on the battlefield. They also provide the capability of staying airborne with teams of Soldiers for extended periods of time. It’s fluid, adaptable, unpredictable and requires highly experienced aviation crews.

“[These ARF operations] are the most demanding, complex and dynamic mission-set that Task Force Diamond Head currently conducts,” said Capt. Paul Hanson, commander and UH-60 Black Hawk Pilot, Company C, 2-25th Aviation Regiment, TF Diamond Head. Captain Hanson is one of those well-versed aviators, that held a variety of maintenance and staff positions at the battalion level. Capt. Hanson currently serves as a company commander and pilot-in-command in the Task Force.

A squad of infantryman with 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment Black Lions are inserted into a landing zone by a Black Hawk helicopter.
A squad of infantryman with 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment Black Lions, 1st Infantry Division, are inserted into a landing zone by a 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Diamond Head, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, Black Hawk helicopter during an aerial reaction force operation. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs)

“The flight crews receive extensive academic training to fully understand the unique command and control architecture, the integration of dissimilar aircraft and the de-confliction measures required to safely execute complex operations in condensed airspace. We then integrate the ground forces who also receive academic training, and participate in a variety of day and night training iterations with the flight crews which includes everything from straightforward cold load training, where we focus on loading and unloading aircraft tactically and safely, to complex vehicle interdictions.

“For those reasons, we only use the most seasoned aviators and flight crew,” he continued. “Many of the pilots are our Task Force standardization, instructor and primary training pilots, most of whom have experience with aerial reaction forces from previous deployments.”

A rotary wing standardization instructor pilot is responsible for ensuring compliance with all applicable aviation regulations, policies and procedures pertaining to all aspects of flight operations and pilot training. Additionally, each battalion and the brigade standardization pilot monitors all flight instruction at their respective levels, to include standardization of flight transitions, proficiency reviews and flight evaluations.

A squad of infantryman with 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment Black Lions, 1ID, fight rotor wash as they are extracted from a landing zone.
A squad of infantryman with 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment Black Lions, 1st Infantry Division, fight rotor wash as they are extracted from a landing zone by a 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Diamond Head, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, Black Hawk helicopter during an aerial reaction force operation. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs)

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joseph Roland is one of those seasoned aviators. Chief Roland is a 23-year combat veteran of several deployments, the 25th CAB senior standardization instructor pilot, special staff to the Brigade commander, and has held every standardization position in an aviation brigade. For Chief Roland, the success of ARF operations is a tribute to the 25th CAB’s proactive mind-set.

“This brigade understands that we exist solely to support the ground force commander. Wherever we deploy we do an exceptional job of evaluating what the ground force commanders need and what problems they are currently facing. We develop a proactive mission platform to be part of their solution,” said Chief Roland.

“The current ground unit who operates in and around Balad identified IDF as a problem,” he continued. “Based on our experience in Afghanistan and previous Iraq deployments, we knew that we had something to offer to curb the threat, and we created [a tailored ARF mission-set].”

According to Chief Roland, the success of ARF operations lies not only in its agility and adaptability, but also its demand for a properly trained and experienced ground troops. TF Diamond Head has that capability in the Black Lion Soldiers.

Sergeant First Class Michael Fletcher, infantryman and platoon sergeant, 1-28th Infantry Regiment “Black Lions,” has been leading ground patrols in and around Balad for eight months and has participated in several ARF operations. Sgt. 1st Class Fletcher appreciated the added value of aviation assets on his counter-IDF mission.

“We conduct ground patrols on a daily basis to counteract the IDF threat” said Sgt. 1st Class Fletcher. “Having the aviation assets at our disposal allows us to respond and maneuver faster and interdict the enemy much quicker. The helicopters from Task Force Diamond Head are a huge asset, and with them the IDF threat has been considerably reduced. Our goal is to eliminate IDF and with Diamond Head it’s working.”

By Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs

Military Friends of NewsBlaze originated these stories, sending them directly to us from Iraq, some from Afghanistan and some in the USA.