FORT A.P. HILL, Va. –
For the first two weeks of June 2017, Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment came together at Fort A.P. Hill for annual training. There, the Soldiers focused on improving individual and unit readiness with events including a personnel recovery exercise and machine gun familiarization classes and live fires, and also provided integral air support to a multi-day mortar raid in conjunction with Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
“Over annual training, basically what we did is work on our air assault and air movement tasks and that culminated with an exercise where we moved troops into a firing position where they could then fire their mortars,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joshua Jacobsen, a pilot with the 2-224th who assisted with the mortar raid mission.
The air assault mission spanned several days, with Virginia Guard flight crews flying the infantrymen from Winchester to A.P. Hill first, and later inserting them into their firing point where they conducted a mortar live fire. Finally, they were flown back to Winchester after a successful mission.
“It was such a great feeling to be in Winchester and to see the birds coming in,” said 1st Lt. Carl Johnson, a mortar platoon leader with 3rd Battalion.
Jacobsen, who was on the ground with the mortarmen during the air assault said being there in person and seeing how the men operated helped make him better at his job.
“It’s not often that we get to be on the ground,” he said. “But our customers are the guys on the ground and by being able to go down on the ground and see them and meet them and understand who our customers are and put a face to them, it just makes us better at being able to do our job by understanding what their job is.”
The state’s UH-72 Lakota detachment, the Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment, also supported the mission with their video downlink capability.
While the majority of the state’s aviation assets spent their AT time at Fort A.P. Hill, the the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment, spent their time in Massachusetts, working on their individual and collective skill sets.
“A tremendous amount happened when we were up there,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shane Leipertz, a pilot with the medical evacuation detachment. “Every [military occupational speciality] was exercised. In order to do what we do, if you’re flying as hard as we were flying, all of your MOS’s have to be doing their job for everything to work.”
Leipertz explained that everyone in the detachment, from pilots to mechanics to communications specialists were hard at work during their time up north. Additionally, flying to and from Massachusetts helped improve the readiness levels of the detachment’s Soldiers.
At the end of the unit’s annual training, on June 17, 2017, Lt. Col. William X. Taylor took command of the battalion from Lt. Col. Thomas L. Hernandez in a traditional change of command ceremony, at the Virginia National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility in Sandston, Virginia. Gen. Walter L. Mercer, Assistant Adjutant General – Army, officiated the event, and presided over the exchange of unit color between the outgoing and incoming commanders.
“I can tell you that both are good leaders,” Mercer said during his remarks. “I’m very confident that we’re passing the command to another good officer.”
Additionally, Soldiers of the aviation battalion conducted fueling and maintenance operations to keep the unit’s Black Hawks flying while air crews focused on individual and collective flight tasks. At Fort A.P. Hill, Soldiers set up a Forward Arming and Refueling Point, or FARP, that enabled air crews to get fuel quickly before continuing on with their mission.