Task Force Hawk helicopters assault 'enemy' at CALFEX
Story and photos by Casey Fuller
(Tropic Times, Panama, Page 17, February 3, 1989)
Task Force Hawk crew chief Specialist Robert Johnson uses an M60D machine gun to clear a landing zone.
EMPIRE RANGE -- U.S. Army artillery, aviation and infantry units, and U.S. Air Force fighter jets assaulted an imaginary enemy last month during a joint Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX).
Early in the morning, Task Force Hawk UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters air assaulted about 50 Battery D, 320th Field Artillery soldiers and four 105mm howitzers from Howard Air Force Base (AFB) to a fighting position at the range.
Fifteen to 20 minutes after the artillery soldiers landed they had completed what is known as occupation -- clearing the immediate area, posting guards and placing the howitzers in fighting positions -- staying concealed until the Fire Support Team (FIST) called for fire.
While the artillery waited, the Air Force's 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron launched a twin-engine 0A-37B Dragonfly forward air controller aircraft on a routine training mission from Howard AFB.
While in flight, an Air Force KC-135 tanker refueled the 0A-37B. Then, the pilot headed to Balboa Range to mark and target simulated enemy positions for a pair of A-7 Corsair II close air support jets.
Armed with two 2.7-inch white phosphorous marker rockets, the 0A-37B diverted to Empire Range and opened communication with Army ground forces.
At about 3:30 p.m. the Army began the attack, pounding the range with high explosive rounds.
Immediately, the Air Force began its strike. The 0A-37B fired its marker rockets.
With targets located by the smoking markers, a pair of Air Force A-7s from the 127th Tactical Fighter Wing, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., streaked into action, each carrying four dummy bomb units (BDU-33).
In less than five minutes, the Corsair IIs made two consecutive air strikes, each time dropping a pair of BDU-33s.
The 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry's mortar sections followed up the fighter attack, steadily raining 81mm mortar shells on targets for the next two minutes.
A pair of Task Force Hawk AH-1 Cobra helicopter gunships dove into the fray, strafing with 20mm cannons and blasting targets with 2.75-inch rockets during a three minute interval that followed the mortar attack.
Next, just 20 to 25 minutes since the attack began, five Task Force Hawk UH60 Blackhawks -- each armed with two M60D machine guns -- began air assaulting 1st Bn., 508th Inf., soldiers from a pickup zone at the Arrijan Tank Farm.
With the first sortie of passengers on board, the Blackhawks approached a landing zone and door gunners opened fire to clear the way. The helicopters touched down momentarily and the infantry soldiers rushed out of the helicopters and into the tall, thick grass surrounding the birds.
The Blackhawks circled back to the tank farm where the rest of the 1/508 troops waited in a tree line. The helicopters continued air assaulting troops from the tank farm, carrying groups of soldiers to three separate locations. Within minutes the 150 passengers were air assaulted to landing zones and the joint CALFEX was complete.
Overall, the exercise was complex and involved high-tech, multi-million dollar aircraft and equipment. But the units that participated, said their individual taskings were not that unusual.
According to Staff Sergeant David Michael, Battery D, 320th Field Artillery, training NCO, firing 70 rounds is a small tasking compared to most live fire missions. And, he said, completing this mission in two minutes was not a strain on his unit's capabilities. "Once we get set up, we can put rounds down range as fast as you want them," he said.
Task Force Hawk helicopters insert troops during a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise in Panama.
For Task Force Hawk, the only thing unusual about their mission was that it took place in daylight, according to Lieutenant Colonel Benton Borum, commander. "Night operations are the task force's primary specialty and our most valuable capability," he said.
For the 1/508th, the joint CALFEX was part of a Field Training Exercise (FTX) that lasted several days. They were still in the jungle when the sun set.
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