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Mother Rucker refines tactics

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From Military.com


Pilots Learn How to Not Get Shot Down

Associated Press | February 23, 2007

FORT RUCKER, Ala. - At a sprawling base set amid the wiregrass pastures of southern Alabama, the Army is teaching its next class of helicopter pilots how to avoid getting shot down when it's their turn to go to Iraq.


Sometimes you fly high, they learn, and sometimes you go low. Vary your speed, and don't fly the same route too often. And always - always - know what's going on around you. That's because it doesn't take much more than a single gun on the ground to take down even the most advanced U.S. helicopter.


"Self-preservation is what the key is," said Chief Warrant Officer Troy A. Wyatt, an instructor.


The Pentagon has reported eight incidents in the past month in which helicopters were either shot down or landed under fire in Iraq. At least two suspects have been arrested. Military officials say militants are increasingly targeting choppers, firing simultaneously from different directions with an assortment of weapons, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.


As the helicopter losses mount, instructors at the Army's aviation school at Fort Rucker are teaching the very latest lessons from the Iraq battlefield to the military's newest chopper pilots, all of whom come through this post at some point.


"We continually work very closely with the units that are in theater in Iraq, and as they return home, we identify how they are doing business, how they are fighting the enemy on the ground in Iraq, and anything we need to do to change or adjust the training here," said Col. Dan Stewart, who is responsible for flight training.


After 5 1/2 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 90 percent of the instructor pilots at Rucker have recent combat experience. They turn out about 1,150 new fliers each year, and many of them are flying combat missions within six months of leaving the post, 90 miles south of Montgomery.


With two Iraqi combat tours behind him, Wyatt can tell a new flier stories about steering an AH-64D Apache Longbow through the deadly skies around Baghdad. He knows about avoiding insurgent fire and providing cover for the infantry below.


Retired Maj. Donald M. Maciejewski, who trained to fly at Rucker and taught there, said the Army has had to rethink some of its helicopter tactics since arriving in Iraq, where there are few trees or terrain features for choppers to hide behind.


"Some of these weapons are so easy to use you could be an idiot and still bring down a chopper," said Maciejewski, now a lawyer in Jacksonville, Fla., specializing in aviation cases. "Basically it's piloting that gets you out of trouble."


Sometimes even the best training isn't enough.


A memorial service was held last week at Rucker for Chief Warrant Officer Keith Yoakum of Coffee Springs, killed in Iraq on Feb. 2 when his Apache Longbow was hit by fire during a combat patrol. Yoakum, 41, was considered a model pilot.


"He was the best of the best," said his brother Mark. "He stayed with his wingman. He didn't take the easy way out."


The training at Fort Rucker begins with ground school and advances quickly to Warrior Hall, where new pilots learn the basics of flying helicopters in simulators resembling white fiberglass campers on spindly metal legs. They get their first taste of flight in TH-67 trainers.


With months of basics behind them, student pilots move into the Army's most advanced helicopters: the Apaches, built for attack missions; OH-58D reconnaissance aircraft; CH-47 Chinook transports; and UH-60 Blackhawks, built for ferrying troops on assault missions.



Video: Pilots Learn Iraq Lessons - (http://player.clipsyndicate.com/player/play/402/99399) cut&paste, no guarantee it'll work, find it at military.com



Under a new training program called Flight School XXI, which began turning out students in October 2005 as the fighting raged in the Mideast, the Army can produce a combat-ready chopper pilot in nine months, or about three months less than before.


Some trainees come in off the street as young as 19. Others already have a feel for what they are in for: Lt. Jon Finch was an Apache crew chief in Afghanistan with the North Carolina National Guard before being accepted into pilot school.


Like everyone else at Rucker, he has heard the grim statistics over the past month in Iraq.


"It makes it real," said Finch, 27, of Raleigh, N.C. "You feel sorry for the families it happens to."


At first, U.S. pilots went into Iraq thinking they could stop, pop up over a rise or building, and fire at targets. The tactic worked well enough in past conflicts, but not in Iraq.


Now, Stewart said, U.S. fliers concentrate on a tactic called "running and diving" fire. The basic idea: "Not to be a stationary target yourself."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Mother Rucker, behind the power curve, in publicity as well as what the rest of the Army has been doing. Mother Rucker has been teaching these tactics since a year or so after OIF kicked off, but the units making the difference transitioned to these tactics even earlier. My units have been doing these things since before 9/11.

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