By Capt. Travis Mueller
28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade
FORT HOOD, Texas – Despite COVID-19 challenges, Soldiers with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade completed training at Fort Hood to prepare for Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve.
The 28th ECAB Soldiers have begun moving to the Middle East where they will provide aviation assets to assist U.S. Central Command and their mission to increase security and stability in the region in support of enduring U.S. interests.
The training accomplished at Fort Hood was a necessary step to ensure 28th ECAB Soldiers are ready to conduct missions in the Middle East safely and successfully.
COVID-19 presented many challenges, and Soldiers had to adhere to numerous precautions. These precautions included a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, COVID-19 test for each Soldier, limiting movement to a designated cohort area, wearing masks, social distancing and increased emphasis on personal hygiene and sanitation.
When Soldiers tested positive, they were moved to an isolation area for medical care and contact tracing.
All that came after months of adjustments to the 28th ECAB's pre-deployment training schedule and general uncertainty. Many Soldiers deployed leaving their loved ones to assist children with school and take care of family during a pandemic.
"I understand the pain of separation some families are enduring," said Col. Howard Lloyd, commander of the 28th ECAB, in a recent letter to the brigade. "I am humbled by everyone's sacrifices to this point."
Units in the 28th ECAB are from New Jersey, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Oklahoma with the majority coming from Pennsylvania. They had to figure out how to bring all those Soldiers together to form one unit.
Warrant Officer Joanna Bradshaw, a UH-60 pilot with Alpha Company, 1-137th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 28th ECAB, describes Army aviation as a complex, reactive and multifaceted endeavor. Given the complexity of running an Army aviation brigade in a deployed environment, it made the 28th ECAB's training at Fort Hood all the more vital.
"Since the 28th ECAB is spread across nine states, support and command assets rarely get the chance to tackle missions as an organic element," said Bradshaw. "I can only speak for myself, but the time I spent at Fort Hood was challenging and greatly improved my crew coordination and mission planning skills."
The final training mission involved planning an air assault, bringing together all parts of the brigade together. Successfully completing that mission validated the brigade's ability to carry out necessary combat missions while overseas.
Soldiers across the brigade also completed many flight hours, refueling operations, gunnery training, logistics operations and functional training to ensure their mission readiness.
Staff members at the brigade and battalion levels, including personnel, intelligence, operations, logistics, communications and other special staff Soldiers, had to coordinate with each other to ensure training missions succeeded.
"We were able to bring nine different states together and, within a relatively short period of time, jelled into a great organization," said Lloyd. "The Soldiers not only got to know each other, but they developed confidence in each other and are well trained and motivated for this mission."
The 166th Aviation Brigade, First Army - Division West provided the resources to complete the training, including Soldiers dubbed "OC/Ts." Those Soldiers observed, coached and trained 28th ECAB Soldiers to ensure adherence to Army doctrine and overall mission readiness.
"Aviators can plan for many contingencies, but only realistic training scenarios force command elements and aviation crewmembers to react to dynamic mission environments," said Bradshaw. "The First Army's OC/Ts made our missions more difficult by injecting notional enemies, faulty equipment and forced breakdowns in communication."
Bradshaw credits her fellow Soldiers' experience and critical thinking for successfully responding to the challenges.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dale Yoder is excited about how units from nine states molded as one team, even amid COVID-19 challenges.
"The nicest compliment I received from the 166th, was when a command sergeant major said that, when he walked through our area at one of the airfields, he could not tell what state we were from," said Yoder. "He just thought we were one unit."
The 28th ECAB now turns its attention to its mission in the Middle East. Though challenges will arise over the coming months, 28th ECAB leaders are encouraged by the resilience and courage their Soldiers have displayed.
"After training here for two months, I can confidently say that our Soldiers are well-trained and ready," said Lloyd. "I pray that we will send them all home safely at the end of their deployment."