SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Working with helicopters takes skills and confidence gained from years of classroom and on-the-job training.
However, only a handful of bases, including Soto Cano, allow Soldier helicopter pilots and crew chiefs to land on and take off from a ship.
The 1-228th Aviation Regiment had an opportunity to apply that skill set when they participated in Operation Continuing Promise from Sept. 15-24 in Nicaragua. The 1-228th crews flew distinguished visitors and equipment to and from the U.S. Navy's USS Iwo Jima, which was the hub of the four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission.
"The terrain is hard to traverse and the roads can be treacherous," said Capt. Elizabeth Eaton-Ferenzi, the team leader for the mission. "We helped connect the dots by providing solid, rapid and dependable air transport."
Before starting the mission, 1-228th pilots had a chance to refresh their training through deck landing qualification training Sept. 13 and 14 on the USS Iwo Jima. During DLQs, an instructor pilot and the pilot being trained made six "bounces": a landing and takeoff from the deck of the ship. The first bounce was a demonstration bounce by the instructor, while the last five allowed the trainee pilot to perform the task.
One of the other things the pilots had to learn, besides how to put the helicopter down on a small landing pad aboard a ship that may be moving slightly in open waters, is the language of the Navy. This included ship terms, radio signals and landing procedures. It was a great opportunity to learn more about another branch of the military, said Captain Eaton-Ferenzi.
While the pilots were learning their part of the mission, the crew chiefs had to learn some new skills as well. Besides preparing for the unknown of bringing their helicopters to another country, the crew chiefs had to think about being near and on the ocean, said Staff Sgt. Brian Ikner, the 1-228th NCO in charge of the crew chiefs for the mission. This included bringing enough parts and products to fix possible problems; a flush kit to rinse the engines of salt water; and an open mind to learn the ways of the Navy deck crew.
"There were some differences in how we do things," Sergeant Ikner said. "We didn't get to work with the Navy crew chiefs, but we had to learn what the different colored uniforms meant (for the deck crew). For example, purple are the fuels guys and the guys in yellow directed traffic." Knowing the roles of each person helped them traverse the deck safely, he added.
Both the pilots and crew chiefs here have had other DLQ opportunities, but Operation Continuing Promise was the first time the captain and some of her team members had a chance to land on a ship for an actual mission. The big difference between the training and mission days were that the operations on the ship did not stop for the 1-228th.
"This time, we were just a piece of the puzzle," Captain Eaton-Ferenzi said. "You had to fall back on your training and put it into action. A lot of pilots never get to do this, so it was neat, especially because we were doing all this for the good of the Nicaraguan people."
It is this spirit of helping that got the 1-228th team through mission challenges, the captain said, and made her love the operation.
"I hope we get to do this again in circumstances similar to Continuing Promise," Captain Eaton-Ferenzi said, "with the services working together to deliver humanitarian aid to Central America."
For more information on Operation Continuing Promise 2010, visit the U.S. Southern Command website at http://www.southcom.mil/appssc/factFiles.php?id=155