An unlikely aviation partner in the Air Combat Command-sponsored Exercise Angel Thunder was the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment from the U.S. Army Reserve.
Units from California, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Kentucky converged at here to form an Aviation Battalion Task Force with five CH-47D Chinooks, eight UH-60L Black Hawks, three HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawks, nine AH-64D Apaches, as well as several heavy vehicles, organic operations tents and equipment, a containerized mobile field feeding kitchen and the M984A4 Wrecker, a heavy expanded mobility tactical truck.
The two weeks of Angel Thunder fulfilled 7-158’s annual training requirements and provided essential joint training for both the Air Force and Army aviation professionals. The level of engagement that Army Aviation had in Angel Thunder served as a reminder that the Army aviation support is critical to the success of any combat or contingency operation, at home or abroad.
“Participating in Angel Thunder provided the commander, the task force battle staff, and subordinate company commanders the unique opportunity to work directly with top tier joint, interagency and coalition forces in a very demanding operational environment within a complex and realistic mission set,” said Lt. Col. James Fitzgerald, 7-158 Commander. “We were able to integrate our task force actions with other units and organizations as part of an operational approach to achieve the exercise’s strategic objectives. End result: we achieved unified action in personnel recovery operations.”
In addition to the Battalion’s standing mission, 7-158 has been supporting a real-world stateside Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission since 2011, known as Defense Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear, and Explosive Response Force. Operation Resolute Angel offered the most realistic DSCA training this battalion has participated in to date.
Participating in his first Angel Thunder, Maj. Clinton Williams, 7-158 Battalion operations officer said, “Angel Thunder offered us the opportunity to get battalion-level collective training tasks within an exercise construct. This is the capstone of a four-year training cycle to achieve proficiency in our six collective mission essential tasks: battalion-level mission command, air assaults, air movement, aerial evacuation, sustainment operations and force protection.”
Though the Army participated in an Air Force-led exercise, the soldiers kept Army traditions alive by roughing it and living in the Desert Lightning City here, in full deployment mode. Many soldiers commented about how well the exercise planners captured the feel of Afghanistan, given the landscape and weather environment during Angel Thunder.
“Actually this is more like the way a normal deployed environment is, despite it being an exercise. It’s been good training,” said Specialist Shawn Keepers, a UH-60 Black Hawk mechanic with A Company 2-238 from Los Alomitos, Calif.
The Army flew missions with international and interagency players, Marines, Army Special Forces, Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and Air Force exercise participants aboard, seamlessly integrating themselves into all aviation aspects of Angel Thunder 13.
“They fully participated in all events and were critical to the success of the operation. We could not have done the exercise as planned without them,” said Brett Hartnett, Angel Thunder exercise director and technical manager.
In all, 3,017 joint, total force, coalition and interagency partners were trained and 109 aircraft participated in Angel Thunder 13. Exercise participants logged more than 1,749 flight hours in 30 exercise scenarios in which approximately 295 people were saved.
Despite the massive size of the exercise, the planners ensured that the budget was as efficient as possible, staying within $1.75 million, said Hartnett.