Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fort Drum Army Aviators Push Boundaries During Falcon’s Peak Exercise

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Providing 10th Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers assigned here with the most realistic training scenarios required planners to think outside the box -- and outside of Fort Drum.

That was recently accomplished with Falcon’s Peak, a 10-day aviation exercise that simulated a rapid readiness deployment of air and ground troops from Fort Drum to Camp Ethan Allen and Camp Johnson in Vermont.

“Falcon’s Peak was an exercise designed to challenge the aviation brigade using real-world distances and simulated threats that replicate the future of warfare, particularly as we see it in multidomain battle” said Army Col. Clair A. Gill, 10th CAB commander.

Army Maj. Joshua Meyer, 10th CAB operations officer, said that the idea for Falcon’s Peak was conceived while the brigade was on a nine-month deployment in Europe last year, where they participated in Saber Guardian 17 and Falcon’s Talon exercises.

In planning Falcon’s Peak, Meyer said that it would allow them to exercise all of their key annual training requirements.

Training Requirements

“Expanding the training area and expanding the routes via air and ground really increased our capabilities,” Meyer said. “It kept us on our feet the whole time. Just the fact that we had to go through a rapid emergency deployment readiness exercise, leave Fort Drum in five days -- and that’s not just packing vehicles and helicopters -- it’s all the briefings and planning that goes into that, as well.”

The exercise involved roughly 850 soldiers, 17 AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and nearly 250 vehicles. The aviation unit tested its low-to-the-ground flying, using the terrain in Northern New York and parts of Vermont to avoid detection and counter simulated air defense artillery threats.

“What was uniquely different than typical battalion- and brigade-level training exercises at Fort Drum is that we pushed out into the surrounding communities to challenge our logistical supply lines and mission command systems over distances beyond the geographic boundaries of Fort Drum,” Gill said. “The exercise absolutely challenged those areas we wanted -- and needed -- to be stressed.”

Soldiers also conducted logistical operations to include supply movements, water purification and medical evacuations. Army Maj. Derek Martin, 10th CAB simulations officer and lead exercise designer, said that training objectives on the ground were just as crucial as those in the air.

“It’s not just a drive. They move in a tactical manner, seize the ground they’re coming into and quickly establish a defense and support area where they logistically support the aviation side of this organization,” he said.

The 277th Aviation Support Battalion completed a convoy live-fire exercise following an eight-hour convoy from Fort Drum. Army 1st Lt. Jessica Abbott said the intent was to validate gunnery crews and test their convoy efficiency.

‘It’s Important to Practice Our Skills’

“It’s important to practice our skills and our gunnery tables in convoy live-fire exercises because we have to protect our own classes of supplies as we transport them to these line units on the front line in supporting them throughout the fight,” she said.

Abbott said that 10th CAB soldiers benefited from training outside of the familiar ranges at Fort Drum.

“We’re not always going to be right in our backyard and know what the training area looks like,” she said. “So we have to get there, assess the area, set up and continue the mission.”

That is what Meyer hoped that every soldier took advantage of during the training.

“It’s really planning for the unknown,” he said. “Driving on unknown roads, flying over unknown terrain, not knowing what’s coming next in a scenario and allowing our planners, our pilots, our soldiers, our drivers -- every soldier and officer in our formation -- to react to the unknown. I really think that’s what prepares us for the uncertainties of future combat.”

The brigade was permitted to use Moore’s Airport, a privately owned property in Degrasse, New York, to establish a forward arming and refueling point. This allowed aircraft to refuel during an air assault mission. They were also allowed use of Tahawus Mine in Essex County to simulate a large scale battlefield.

“We sought and gained approval from patriotic community members who lent us their land on which to train,” Gill said. “We spent weeks ahead of time briefing community and state officials on the exercise and its importance to building readiness within the brigade, but also highlighting how the regional support enables us to demonstrate relevance for the future.”

Harsh Weather Conditions

It wouldn’t be a North Country spring without freezing temperatures and flurries, and fluctuating weather conditions forced 10th CAB soldiers to take necessary precautions.

“We had to consider individual soldier safety amid rain, sleet snow and freezing rain,” Gill said. “We had to reposition aircraft and equipment to mitigate forecasted high wind warnings, and we had to put our best crews on mission to fly in adverse, snowy conditions. Our drivers had to think through operating heavy equipment on trails and roads that weren’t always in pristine condition.”

He added, “More than anything, exercises like Falcon’s Peak require leaders at every level to make decisions, sometimes independent of higher headquarters oversight, to accomplish the mission with only commander’s intent and the immediate resources at their disposal.”

Martin said that as the temperatures dropped, it was the junior leaders who rose to the challenge to ensure their soldiers were equipped properly, training safely and staying combat effective during adverse conditions.

“We fought against weather -- springtime in the North Country is always a fun issue -- but it’s part of the exercise,” Martin said. “You have the enemy situation on the ground, the terrain and the weather. How to defeat those is always the greatest challenge, and I think this exercise really got after that.”

Coming Home

The 10th CAB formation took the fight back home April 17, returning to Fort Drum to face the final objective. Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, served as the opposition force and the air assault element.

“My job as exercise director was to bring forth an effective, realistic, tough opposition force, and so I established a very complex defense here at Fort Drum,” Martin said. “Our aircraft were able to fly in against it. They attacked, conducted a large air assault in the end which culminated the exercise and we were very successful tactically.”

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Samuel Harvill was one of the Black Hawk pilots who reached Fort Drum undetected by the OPFOR.

“We never had any indications we were being tracked by the enemy, and that’s because of our tactics -- how low we were flying and utilizing the terrain to mask the aircraft from that enemy threat,” he said. “If they can’t see us, they can’t hit us. It proves that what we are doing is working, and that if we keep training this way and keep building on these procedures and techniques that we are learning and developing right now, I think we will be a very effective force in the future.”

The culminating event was named Operation Po Valley Breakout in recognition of a historic 10th Mountain Division campaign in Italy during World War II.

“In fact, Falcon’s Peak took place exactly 73 years to the day when our forefathers assaulted Hill 909 and 913 during the spring offensive of 1945 in Italy,” Gill said. “I’m most encouraged by how this formation, the Falcon Brigade, embodies the spirit and intent of mission command to fight and win in any environment, anytime.”

Pentagon Honors Secretary of Defense Environmental Award Recipients

WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department is honoring nine winners with the 2018 Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards for exceptional environmental achievements and innovative, cost-effective environmental practices.

The department has honored individuals, teams and installations each year since 1962 for remarkable achievements in these environmental management strategies that successfully support mission readiness, Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said in the memorandum announcing the recipients.

Environmental Stewardship

“The winners' achievements reflect the department's commitment to protect national security by supporting U.S. military forces through dynamic environmental stewardship that increases military readiness and enhances efficiencies,” Lord said.

By safeguarding the long-term sustainability of the nation’s vital resources, DoD is improving the military’s capabilities, according to Lord.

Each winner receives a trophy, a secretary of defense certificate of meritorious achievement, a personalized congratulatory letter, and an honorary American flag that is flown over the U.S. Capitol on Earth Day and over the Pentagon on Memorial Day.

The winners are:

Natural Resources Conservation, Small Installation: Hawaii Army National Guard, which implemented a multifaceted invasive species management program to increase acreage available for training and conserve a unique tropical ecosystem.

Natural Resources Conservation, Individual/Team: Natural Resources Conservation Team, Naval Base Ventura County, California, which established programs to support coastal resilience, conserve habitat and species and reduce costs at its three primary operating facilities.

Environmental Quality, Non-Industrial Installation: Fort Hood, Texas, which exceeded Qualified Recycling Program goals by selling 27.2 million pounds of recyclable materials and surpassed water and energy reduction goals by installing a solar photovoltaic array, wind turbines and water conservation systems.

Environmental Quality, Individual/Team: Frederick A. Javier, 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, who provided outstanding leadership by training installation staff on environmental management and engaging with the local community to promote DoD’s mission and science education.

Sustainability, Industrial Installation: Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California, which achieved reductions in electricity and water consumption while partnering with local government to gain cost savings.

Environmental Restoration, Installation: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, which completed a 10-year performance-based restoration initiative resulting in response complete or site closure for 44 environmental restoration sites ahead of schedule, and maintained accelerated or on-time closure for 55 additional sites.

Environmental Restoration, Individual/Team: Vieques Environmental Restoration Team, Puerto Rico, which implemented successful restoration projects to remove unexploded ordinance and clean up contaminants while engaging with local partners.

Cultural Resources Management, Large Installation: Camp Ripley, Minnesota Army National Guard, which completed an installation-wide record of all archaeological sites that will benefit cultural resources management and reduce impact to critical military operations.

Environmental Excellence in Weapon System Acquisition, Large Program: Combat Rescue Helicopter Program Environment, Safety and Occupational Health Team, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, which implemented programs to eliminate or reduce exposure to hazardous materials like hexavalent chromium.

Face of Defense: Airman-Poet Enjoys Community Involvement

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When he arrived at Peterson Air Force Base here last year, Air Force Staff Sgt. Sipho Brannen searched for local opportunities to further his love for the arts.

Brannen, the 4th Space Control Squadron’s logistics flight chief and unit deployment manager, can today be found downtown with his friends, reciting poetry at a restaurant or hosting his own local poetry open mic night on evenings or weekends.

Upon his arrival here, Brannen said he was looking for an artistic venue such as the one he and his friends started in 2011 while stationed in Hampton, Virginia.

‘I Didn’t See Anything Centered on Artist Development’

“When I was looking around at the other open mics in Colorado Springs, I didn’t see anything centered on artist development that was trying to build up or celebrate artists in town,” Brannen said. “Everything was geared more toward slam poetry or more developed artists who just wanted some stage time.”

Instead, Brannen created his own monthly open mic night at a local lounge called, “The Shop Open Mic & Laboratory,” where musicians, singers or poets -- inexperienced or not -- can perform and get feedback from the audience.

About 40 people come to the monthly open mic night and about 10 perform, said Brannen, adding about 70 people are the most attendees he’s seen.

“I’ve had a few folks from my squadron come through. I haven’t pushed it to the base yet though; I’m kind of just seeing how it naturally develops,” Brannen said.

Brannen recites poetry when there is enough time for an extra performer, but he mostly facilitates his open mic night, which is held every first Thursday of the month at 8:15 p.m. When stationed in Virginia, Brannen first recited original poetry at a local restaurant with his friends.


“I got tired of going to the clubs and bars and stuff. I get it, we go out on the weekend and have a few drinks, but this was an unfulfilling experience. So I thought, ‘How can I get more from what’s happening? What can I do with my time?’ Someone said, ‘Hey, why don’t we start an open mic?’ I asked a few of my friends who liked poetry as well. We started an open mic and did that for three or four years.”

Spoken word poetry, photography and videography have become a few of Brannen’s passions since he first became involved with open mic nights. Spoken word is an oral performance art that focuses on word play and intonation and voice inflection

“I didn’t have many poems at first, but it was fun, I enjoyed it and kept going,” Brannen said. “My pieces started off super short; I had these five-line poems. They just got longer and longer.”

Brannen said as he became more confident he had more things he wanted to say through his art.

“Open mics can be like therapy or church group -- where you get people’s real confessionals. They go deep,” he said.

In exploring the surrounding community, Brannen said he has been recruited by groups like People Embracing All Cultures Equally at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs for a video collaboration.

“We’re working on a video project together. I’m one of the people PEACE invited in to brainstorm and come up with ideas. That’s one I’m really excited about,” said Brannen, who is also part of the Colorado Springs Black Arts Movement.

Community Involvement

Joining neighboring groups and organizations is more than just checking off a box, Brannen said.

“I think it’s important on a personal level and professional level,” he said. “When you join the Air Force, you’re still a citizen. You’re under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the life that comes with that, but you’re still a citizen at the end of the day. You still have this part of society that you exist in.”

Through his open mic night, Brannen has developed relationships with many people in the Colorado Springs community, including military members from all branches of service.

“A lot of the work I do affects a lot of people on different levels. People will pull me aside and tell me about an event that happened or an experience they had,” Brannen said. “Having those experiences where people are vulnerable with you, getting through a moment that’s really hard or sharing something that’s really difficult -- you get more of those experiences there than in a professional setting.”

Thanks to hosting his monthly event, Brannen said he has more confidence and has also published his own book.

Creative Outlets

Finding a creative outlet doesn’t have to be through poetry, Brannen said, it can be through music, rock climbing or anything.

“Look at what you’re interested in or maybe even try something new that’s outside of your comfort zone,” he said. “Just do something that’s different, because you never know what you’re going to find with experimentation and getting away from the day-to-day tasks of a military job.”

Beverly Price, 21st Force Support Squadron installation resilience operations director and community support coordinator, provides resources to anyone on Peterson AFB looking to be more involved with the arts.

“Building supportive relationships is the foundation for resilience and ties directly with our wingman philosophy of taking care of yourself and taking care of others,” Price said. “Activating social engagement through music, poetry, theater or exercise helps create those friendships -- those positive protective systems -- which we all need in times of adversity.”

Price works with different arts organizations around Colorado Springs to provide opportunities for airmen at Peterson.

“It’s bringing balance to their life,” Price said. “My whole job with resilience is making sure people balance the four quadrants of their life: social, mental, physical and spiritual. Blending a series of arts programs with our resilience modules introduces like-minded people to one another, which in turn strengthens our community and sense of connectedness.”

If an airman wants to start a group or club on base, such as a writing club that meets in the library, they can do that, said Price, adding she’s currently speaking with different organizations to bring more arts onto the base.