Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tac Hel

Some days in your life are just plain cooler than others. I had a pretty good one the other day, thanks in part to the good folks of 408 Squadron deployed as part of the JTF-Afg Air Wing, who shuttled us from KAF to Camp Nathan Smith, home of the KPRT.

Note that the horizon isn't staying particularly still. That's not shakiness in my hand. It's the bird yanking and banking all over the place. And I'm told that if we'd taken any fire - not likely in the daytime - I'd have been more worried about hanging on to the camera at all than taking pictures with it.

For two of the reporters on the trip, this was their first ride in a helicopter. Ever. I told them never to bother paying for one, since it couldn't possibly live up.

Like I said, for a guy who's always had a fascination with flying, some days are cooler than others. But apart from the roller-coaster thrill of the ride, it was evidence of something important: we don't absolutely need to do everything by convoy anymore, and we don't absolutely need to beg rides on allied choppers all the time anymore.

As Col Coates, commander of the JTF-Afg Air Wing and himself a helicopter pilot, said to us when we toured the facilities at Whiskey Ramp the other day:

In my experience, there are never enough helicopters to go around...There will always be a requirement for troops to be on the roads. But if aviation can reduce those risks, we should.

And it really can. There were always questions about whether the Griffons could handle the high and hot of Kandahar. And with the Air Wing standing up in the cooler season, we still have yet to see just how effective they'll be when the tougher conditions hit in the summer. But as one of the chopper pilots told me, every nation flying helos over here has issues with the conditions. You find a way to make it work. Even Col Coates, who is very careful with his words around the media, admitted:

Everyone in the tactical helicopter world has been itching to get over here for a long time.

They train with the Army all the time. They've lived with them in the field, worked closely with them on exercises, and then when the Army went to Afghanistan - when their friends and comrades went to war - they stayed back in Canada, grinding their teeth. Imagine knowing you could help, and not being allowed to - the frustration of it.

But they're here now. Hooah.

I asked Col Coates just what the Griffons would be doing, and he said their primary role would be escort for the Chinooks. That surprised me - were they not supposed to be doing Close Combat Support (CCS) as well? He replied that that's not what they're here for. According to him, we'll try to let the dedicated attack helo assets handle that...but then he added a caveat:

But never say never. Two years ago, nobody thought we'd have Griffons here at all.

I'm guessing the CF isn't picking up Dillons, and eventually - RUMINT - M3 50-cals solely for escorting the heavies, though. Of course, I'm only speculating, here.

Speaking of the heavies, it's a beautiful thing seeing them sitting there on the ramp with a maple leaf painted on the side. And that's not all that's getting painted on...

Congrats to all involved in getting the helo side of the Air Wing set up. JTF-Afg is much more capable with your addition.

* * * * *

Your contribution helps make this trip possible:


Blogger membrain said...

Damian, this is excellent stuff. Congratulations on years of hard work. Let's hope this is the first of many.

I've posted a link over at my blog to try and help boost contributions to the tip jar.

All the best and thanks so much for doing this.

1:56 p.m., January 22, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

What? You hung out with 408 and there's no mention of Mr. Orange Toque? It appears his handler must be falling down on the job :)

Love reading your posts since you landed in the Sandbox.

10:19 p.m., January 22, 2009  
Blogger Shere Khan said...

I Think I see MOT hanging out on the end of the pitot tube on the first chopper. Heheh.

Stay cool Damian!

7:09 p.m., January 23, 2009  
Blogger Dwayne said...

Sorry to disappoint Shere but that is a standard "Remove Before Flight" pennant that is part of the pitot tube cover. Thanks to Damian for this, it is nice to see some aviation news from in theater.

8:27 p.m., January 23, 2009  

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