Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fort Bliss to conduct flight training in Lincoln National Forest

Lt. Col. Segura, G3 for Air Operations at Fort Bliss demonstrates how a helicopter lands in a wooded environment like in the Lincoln National Forest to Otero County Commissioners at their regular county commission meeting Thursday morning.

From left to right: Col. Tom O’Connor, Commander of the Combat Aviation Brigade, Lt. Col. Segura, G3 for Air Operations and Chief Pilot Murino, Combat Aviation Brigade presented to county commissioners their proposal to train in Lincoln National Forest to practice high altitude flying and landing.

ALAMOGORDO – The Garrison Command team and 1st Armored Division (1AD) Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) at Fort Bliss in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service plans to train in Lincoln National Forest to practice flying their aircraft at high altitudes.

The Fort Bliss brigade is proposing to establish a number of sites within the LNF to conduct their new mission, the High Altitude Mountain Environment Training Strategy (HAMETS), for certification training for their helicopter pilots.

The purpose of HAMETS is to train pilots in conducting approaches and landings within wooded mountain environments that challenge and hone aviator skills prior to deployment.

To more efficiently reach the sites, the 1AD also proposes to periodically stage and fuel helicopters at the Alamogordo White Sands Regional Airport.

The USFS asked the 1AD to present their proposals to County Commissioners to notify them of the proposed action and to give commissioners the opportunity to ask questions.

Conservation Branch Chief of the Environmental Division at Fort Bliss Brian Knight was accompanied by Col. Tom O’Connor, Commander of the Combat Aviation Brigade, Lt. Col. Segura, G3 for Air Operations and Chief Pilot Murino, Combat Aviation Brigade.

O’Connor said although Fort Bliss is an excellent training installation, it lacks proper environmental helicopter training for their soldiers who are about to be deployed.

“Although Fort Bliss is a phenomenal training installation, there’s not a lot of opportunities for our soldiers to prepare. One of the challenges we have is that we don’t have a lot of trees, as well as high altitude landing zones for our soldiers to practice at,” O’Connor said. “Lincoln National Forest is obviously very close to us and offers elevations of up to 9,000 feet. The density of the forest with the tall trees gives it a more confined area for us to navigate and land the aircraft which adds to the complexity of flying in that same environment overseas such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”

He said as a part of his responsibility it his job to ensure that his soldiers are well prepared before they’re sent off into a war zone.

“Part of my responsibility is to ensure that my soldiers are trained in aviation operations to perform the duties of not just flying an aircraft but execute the mission at different altitudes of different environments throughout the world,” O’Connor said. “Some of the regions where they are deployed are very mountainous which can be a hazard when flying a helicopter. My responsibility is to ensure that they have the right training as well as proficiency before I send them off in harm’s way.”

There are three types of helicopters that Fort Bliss soldiers will be training with, the Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache.

Segura said the brigade looked within their own flying area for the training which is quite extensive but agreed that the LNF would be a world class training environment and they have already identified 18 small landing zones.

“We looked within the local flying area of our first armored division but the LNF that resides within your county, provides our aviators a world class training environment to conduct high altitude training,” Segura said. “As we look forward and we start to look at different options, we’re looking at utilizing, potentially, the opportunity to use the Alamogordo airport for the refueling. It will give us the ability to rotate our aviators in and out of their aircraft as we go into the Lincoln National Forest.”

He said they would also be conducting night training so soldiers can practice using night vision goggles and the LNF is the perfect location for this kind of training.

“Nowhere else can we find the near exact environment like in Afghanistan or North Korea with the mountains and elevations we have here. We’re working to get a 25 year special use permit from the Lincoln National Forest,” Segura said.

Knight said in 2012 the LNF granted Fort Bliss to conduct this kind of training and it was extremely beneficial for their troops.

“In 2012, the LNF generously gave us temporary authorization to conduct this kind of training and the feedback we got from it was fantastic,” Knight said. “It really helped them in Afghanistan.”

He said they are currently in the scoping period and they will later present to the City of Alamogordo and the Village of Cloudcroft.

The presentation to County Commissioners will be a part of the scoping process for the EA that the Army intends to generate.

Once the draft is made available they will have public meetings that will include the mountain community of Weed hopefully in October or November of this year.

Once the meetings are held they will allow a 30-day comment period for the communities to ask any questions about their operation. If everything goes as planned the Army should receive a 25 year special use permit from LNF to conduct their training's there when needed.

County Commissioners were in support of the proposal.

Original article can be found here:

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