West Point Cadets ‘Drive to Glory’ with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade

By Class of 2018 Cadets Hannah Whisnant and Tyler Pham

July 13th, 2017 | News, News and Features
 Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Hill (far left) of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade familiarizes Class of 2018 Cadets Tyler Pham (right) and Hannah Whisnant with the UH-60M Transportable Blackhawk Operations Simulator.      Courtesy Photos
The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade’s challenge for Saber Guardian 2017 was a ground assault convoy from Illesheim, Germany to Novo Selo Training Area and Krumovo Airfield, Bulgaria. The route was a stretch of 1,400 miles through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
 An UH-60M flies overhead during the final stretch of the convoy.

We had assumed that the climax of our Cadet Troop Leader Training experience (CTLT, a graduation requirement for USMA) with the 2-10th Assault Helicopter Battalion would involve a large number of aircraft assaulting an objective. Instead, we learned that Army Aviation’s commitment to the ground force goes much deeper than we thought.

The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, from Fort Drum, N.Y., is currently forward deployed to the European Command Area of Responsibility in support of Atlantic Resolve 2.0, and is the first aviation brigade to execute the new rotational unit concept.

Spread across five different countries, the CAB’s mission has been to train interoperability with NATO allies and deter foreign aggression. As cadets from West Point, we have had the opportunity to work alongside the unit in what has become known as the “super bowl” of EUCOM’s annual exercises—Saber Guardian 2017.

Spanning three countries and involving more than 25,000 Soldiers from 20 different nations, SG17 will showcase NATO’s commitment to European security.

Already proficient in aviation operations, the CAB’s challenge for SG17 was the ground assault convoy from Illesheim, Germany to Novo Selo Training Area and Krumovo Airfield, Bulgaria.

Our first week of training with the CAB was aviation-centric, including a ride-along in the back of a UH-60M and two hours in the simulator where we experienced the struggle that student pilots endure while learning to fly. Concurrent with this training, however, was in-depth planning for the movement to Bulgaria.

The convoy was a historic event for Army Aviation. A brigade of aviators, who are normally at home in the air, drove over 1,400 miles through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

The trip involved four border crossings, four overnight stops and more than a dozen refuel points.

For the cadets, it was our first leadership experience outside the Academy, but the convoy was a new challenge for everyone involved.

There was an element of international cooperation to the convoy unlike anything we had previously encountered. We worked with local police escorts through Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, and came across many civilians curious about the American military vehicles in their streets.

The challenge was to apply known principles of leadership in a new environment. Communication between vehicles was paramount, as we traveled with 17 vehicles spread out over a mile from lead to trail. Safety was also highly important while sharing the highways with civilian vehicles.

Commitment to thorough preventative maintenance checks and services that had begun months prior allowed us to travel the entire distance without a single accident or mechanical failure that we couldn’t fix.

As we traveled south and temperatures soared, keeping all personnel alert and hydrated was key. It was deeply motivating to see the focus and teamwork at every level of leadership, as each member of the convoy took responsibility for himself and his fellow Soldiers in an unfamiliar situation. We were incredibly honored to assist Lts. Matt Gravel and Tim Dore and see firsthand many of the usual, and unusual, challenges that platoon leaders face on a daily basis.

The convoy’s final stop after five days was a cluster of tents and camo netting on an airfield in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. To the south are the Rhodopes Mountains, and beyond that the nation of Greece and the Aegean Sea.

Next week (now this week), another group of cadets will take our place, participating in the large-scale air assaults and other training events that constitute Saber Guardian.

In the fall, we will all return for our final year at West Point. The lessons and experiences gained on the convoy, however, will follow us back to the Academy and on to our careers as officers.