Blue skies usher in Bollen Range live fire, CSAR mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Elisabeth A. Matulewicz
  • 111th Fighter Wing
With a ghost white face, twisted stomach and heavy feet, I peered out the back of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at the ground below. The view was amazing for me, approx. 70 other guardsmen from the 111th Fighter Wing and several members of the local community who boarded three helicopters earlier that day. Our mission: to take part in an A-10 live fire demonstration, which included a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) demonstration on May 15 at Bollen Air-to-Ground Weapons Range, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. It is instances like this when I realize how cool of a job the Guard is.

At Willow Grove Air Reserve Station, everyone received preflight safety briefings. We were transported to Bollen Range via helicopter, dropped off and walked the rest of the way to a clearing in the woods. We watched the live fire event from metal bleachers on a gravel area at the base of a range tower.  From the bleachers, we could hear radio chatter between the pilots and range control.

The day started out cloudy and hazy, reminiscent of last year's scheduled live fire event where the firing portion was cancelled due to low ceilings. But the blue skies pushed most of the clouds out with 10 miles visibility, and the bombing began.

The A-10s approached the range from various directions, firing and dropping bombs and turning off into the horizon. Later on, the Chinooks conducted a CSAR mission where they simulated airlifting survivors, like what they do when a pilot is downed or troops are injured on the ground.

"This is a routine training mission where we were able to incorporate unit members into the event," Col. Paul W. Comtois, 111th FW commander, explained. "Everyone gains a better understanding of exactly what happens out there which motivates them."

"It was pretty awesome," said Airman First Class Ryan M. Nestor, 201st RED HORSE Sq. Det. 1. He attended last year's live firing and said he was pleased with today's outcome.

"I thought the helicopter ride would be rougher with more turbulence," said Senior Airman Tremayne Young, 201st RED HORSE Sq. Det. 1. "It was very cold at times."

"A memorable moment came when our helicopter landed near a helicopter already on the ground. The first helicopter had already unloaded its passengers, some walking up a trail carrying supplies for today's lunch. The wind from the rotor blades caught them, knocking a few of them over and sending a portion of the day's supplies airborne. Thankfully no one was injured and a good laugh was had by all," said Lt. Col. Daryl E. Newhart, 103rd Fighter Sq, project officer for the event.

Civic leaders from the local community who support the Guard also attended the event. They came from a variety of organizations to include: Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), Pocono Raceway, Union League of Philadelphia, Willow Grove Chamber of Commerce, Wachovia Arena, Clear Channel, Phillies, Outback Steakhouse and Milso Corporation. For most, it was their first time seeing an Army-Air Guard training mission.

"We fly a lot but this was different," said Robert Pallo of the Pocono Raceway.

"I absolutely loved it," Robert's wife, Ginny, added. "It's better than we expected and it was a beautiful day."

"I tested A-10 guns at Robbins Air Force Base about 10 years ago when I was active duty, but seeing them in action was neat," said Tim Gable of DCMA. "We drove up from New Cumberland today to see it."

A lot of people were involved in the event's success. 

"The helicopters came from the Army Reserves out of Fort Eustis, Va., and the Pa. Army National Guard," said Colonel Newhart. "Support assets like cooking equipment, a bus and range personnel came from the 193rd Regional Support Group. Lt. Col. Nic Szoke served as lead aircraft and forward air controller with Lt. Col. Tim O'Toole and Lt. Col. Danny Martin in the fighter roles. Capt. Christine Munch, Capt. Elizabeth Ladd and Capt Aaron Shick were section leaders who were responsible for the safety and accountability of all who attended. Everyone did a great job being at the right place at the right time in an environment they were totally unfamiliar with."

During both legs of the flight, we had the opportunity to walk towards the back of the aircraft and look out below. I remained seated on the way to the Gap and dabbled with the decision on the way back home to Willow Grove. I made the decision not to but was able to glance out from my seat. Luckily, I did not get sick into an in-flight bag and the aircrew took very good care of us.