Fort Sill, Okla –
The ordinarily quiet Henry Post Army Airfield at Fort Sill was alive with the thump of rotors and roar of turboprops when multiple services came together for training on the night of, July 12.
Aviation units from the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade including, ones from Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico and Texas Army National Guard units, and the Marine Corps, conducted operations at the airfield to train in aerial gunnery, medical evacuations and refueling operations. First Army designed and evaluated the exercise, in addition to providing observer coach/trainers from the 166th Aviation Brigade.
Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 based out of Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, brought in a pair of massive CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters and a KC-130J as part of rapid ground refueling. Known as “hot refueling”, the pilots of both helicopters and the KC-130J left the engines running to simulate a quick refuel while supporting combat missions.
“Training of this nature supports Joint Forces rapid deployment operations and develops proficiency and readiness in United States Marine Corps pilots for Army mission operations support and deployment in the theater of operations,” said Col. James H. B. Peay IV, United States Army Garrison Fort Sill commander. “This just really emphasizes the flexibility that we at Fort Sill can provide.”
While the Marines were conducting “hot refueling” operations, Soldiers with the Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment were conducting operations of their own. The unit conducted ariel gunnery with UH-60 Blackhawks and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, on Fort Sill ranges, as well as a simulated medevac mission at Reynolds Army Health Clinic’s helipad. The Chinooks, from Lexington, Oklahoma are familiar with Fort Sill and the surrounding area as they help fight wildfires in the southwest part of the state.
“Fort Sill is ideally located for these types of operations,” said Rob Turner, airfield manager. “These units are all training to deploy, and our airfield allows them to operate in an environment similar to what they could see oversees.”
Turner said the Marines planned their mission after the unit operations officer saw Henry Post Army Airfield on a map while at their forward location in Fort Worth and realized the airfield and surrounding terrain is similar to their final destination area of operations and the distance fit their normal mission profiles.
In operation since 1917, the airfield is the oldest still operating in the Army, said Turner. With a 5002-foot runway, they are able to accommodate most aircraft in the military inventory including the Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster.
“Joint training is crucial for our modern Army,” said Turner. “Being able to train like this gives our forces the capability to quickly get to an area of critical need and ensure our interests are properly supported.”
In all, the airfield supported 27 aircraft, crews and equipment from multiple services running simultaneous operations without a single incident, said Turner.
While operations will continue at the airfield into mid-August, Peay said none of it would be possible without Fort Sill’s unique airspace. Unlike other posts which are restricted at 300 feet, Fort Sill controls its airspace all the way up to 60,000 feet.
“We're very fortunate where the Federal Aviation Administration has granted us special operating airspace,” said Peay. “Tonight gave us the opportunity to showcase our abilities and help out with some special training and being so close to Fort Hood, Tinker, and Sheppard is really making us the preferred location of choice for units to get away from home station, come up here and do some really unique training.”