YUKON TRAINING AREA, Alaska -- Alaska’s transition from winter to spring and the ensuing muddy mess that comes with all that melting snow, is usually abrupt, but this “breakup” as Alaskan’s call it, was fast by any standard.
When Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright were getting ready to go to the field in the Yukon Training Area for an AH-64 Apache helicopter aerial gunnery range, a winter storm dropped nearly two feet of fresh snow on the area.
The weekend before they moved out, temperatures dropped to 29 degrees below zero.
Two days later, as the battalion was setting up a Forward Arming and Refueling Point at Firebird LZ, temperatures soared into the 50s.
The FARP transitioned quickly from snowy to icy and then to ankle-deep mud, but the mechanics, refuelers, aviation operations specialists, air traffic control technicians and armament specialists said they were excited to be in the field again, despite the circumstances.
“When we’re in the field, that’s basically where we get to actually do our jobs,” explained Sgt. Blake Meyer, an aviation refueler from E Company, 1-25th ARB. “It builds camaraderie within the battalion.”
Like the postal service, the Soldiers continue their missions in any weather.
“Weather doesn’t influence much, just inside the TOC right now it’s a little bit muddy,” said Pfc. Javier Mercado, an aviation operations specialist with the battalion headquarters company. “Weather doesn’t impact much how we perform.”
As the Apaches approached the FARP they were guided in by Soldiers from F Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, working inside the Mobile Tower System, a tactical air traffic control system.
Once the helicopters landed, FARP Soldiers sprang into action to safely and quickly get the aircraft refitted and ready to return to action on the live-fire range.
“We work pretty much like a pit crew, we know where we need to be positioned and we try to be as fast and efficient as possible,” said Pfc. Johnathan Moran, an aviation refueler from E Company.
“When the aircraft come in, we have direct communication with the pilot to see what the load is for the tables they are going to shoot and then we adjust accordingly and help them with their mission,” said Spc. Riley Baxter, an AH-64 armament/electrical/avionics systems repairer with D Company.
Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Tanner Spry said that due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, only a portion of his Soldiers deployed for the range, but he noted the high morale among those who did.
“They just love getting out here to do their jobs,” he said.