Ripple effects reach Rockies
Standing near the headquarters of the only high-altitude helicopter training school in the United States, CW3 Reed Greenwood of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne is explaining why Eagle County is playing a crucial role in America’s airborne war on terrorism.”This is a perfect example of a small mountain community doing their part to contribute to what’s happening in the world, training pilots that have been deployed all over the world and will be deployed all over the world,” Greenwood says.Freshly returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and fully prepared for possible deployment to the Persian Gulf, Greenwood has been sent to Eagle to train at the High Altitude Aviation Training Site at the Eagle County Airport.”Your community has contributed and will continue to contribute by training pilots in one of the most important things in flying power management,” he says. “And this, in turn, assists us in keeping your sons and daughters safe.”Greenwood says power management is – in part – the complex art of learning to handle his Black Hawk UH-60 (or any other kind of helicopter) in thin mountain air with heavyweight loads in variable conditions. With more helicopters than any other branch of the armed forces, the Army will rely heavily on the Black Hawk for combat support, troop deployment and re-supply missions during the ongoing war in Iraq and the continuing hunt for Osama bin Laden.But Black Hawk pilots may have one of the most accident-prone jobs in the military. Since 1999, more than 50 American soldiers have been killed and 40 have been injured in Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter accidents, according to the Associated Press. And that number is widely predicted to grow during Operation Iraqi Freedom.Unlike the two Black Hawks downed by shoulder-mounted, rocket-propelled grenades in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 (subject of the book and movie Black Hawk Down), most Black Hawk accidents in the last decade were a result of weather and training conditions not enemy fire.”There are projectiles coming at you that are dangerous,” Greenwood says of his combat experience in Afghanistan. “But just the (weather) elements are dangerous. The training we receive here helps eliminate the dangers that we encounter.”Despite the dangers of flying, Standardization Instructor Pilot Ken Sparks (also of the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg, N.C.), says he will be ready to go to Iraq if the Army deploys him.”As with any deployment or combat opportunity, we have the chance not only to hone our skill but to test out skills in the situations that we train for,” he says. “It’s similar to being on a football team. You practice and practice and one of these times you get a chance at the big game, and you want to see if you can play in the big game.”If Greenwood and Sparks are called to duty in Iraq, they will join other elements of the 14,000-member 82nd Airborne already in Northern Kuwait or Southern Iraq. Many of those pilots and pilots from other segments of the military – have trained here in Eagle County.Strategic analysts indicate that the 82nd Airborne will be given the duty of destroying anti-aircraft sites deep inside the borders of Iraq, and may also be used to seize control of several dams inside the country.The 82nd Airborne is the largest parachute force among westernized nations. Formed on Aug. 25, 1917, the division was demobilized until the outbreak of World War II. Since then it has remained a core portion of the U.S. military, participating in the Vietnam War, the invasion of Panama, the first Gulf War and now Iraq and Afghanistan.