FORWARD OPERATING BASE ROBINSON, Afghanistan --
Afghan National Army soldiers with 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, and Marines with Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 2-215 conducted a site survey of the landing zone, Feb. 24, aboard Forward Operating Base Robinson in Helmand province.
In order to bring in ANA helicopters to FOB Robinson, the area has to be safe, secure and large enough for aircraft to land in order to provide logistical and medical support. The Marines’ role was to offer advice about the possible future use of the landing zone.
“In the future, as we retrograde, all of the aviation support we provide for the ANA will be disappearing,” said Maj. Scott Shadforth, forward air controller, SFAAT 2-215. “What we’re ideally trying to do is get ANA Mi-17 helicopters to be able to come into the Sangin area and support the ANA with medevac and logistical support.
“Unfortunately, the kinetics in Sangin make this not the most desirable place to fly a helicopter in and out of,” said Shadforth, who is from Jacksonville, N.C. “With the scarce resources available to the ANA, they want to make sure the area is reasonably safe to bring their aircraft into, and that the pilots are ok with it.”
Shadforth, who coordinates all the aviation requirements for Forward Operating Base Nolay, knowing the importance of a safe and reliable LZ, climbed defense towers to get a better angle and offer his best advice on landing procedures to ANA officials.
“The landing zone is actually in very good condition,” said Shadforth, who is stationed out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. “It’s a very viable LZ to bring in the Mi-17 helicopters. In the near future we’ll start working with some of the Afghan soldiers to train them how to properly brief and communicate with aircraft when they come in to drop off passengers and cargo, or to pick up injured soldiers.”
Such training is already being provided to ANA soldiers aboard Camp Shorabak as part of the Noncommissioned Officer Battle Course.
As Coalition forces draw down and the ANA takes over combat operations, the use of Mi-17 helicopters becomes even more vital. The Afghan soldiers aboard Camp Shorabak train to become familiar with boarding helicopters, loading casualties and providing security for landing zones. Many of the soldiers have never been in or around a helicopter prior to the course.
The Afghan pilots have already begun extracting casualties and providing logistical support in other areas; the next step is to welcome them into the Sangin Valley for future use.
Following the site survey aboard FOB Robinson, Marines and ANA soldiers sat down for tea and further discussed the future of the landing zone.
“Everything looked really good,” said Capt. Joe Dewson, the fires advisor for ANA 2nd Brigade, with SFAAT 2-215. “It was pretty well laid out as far as good lines of sight and visibility for the helicopters, and it’s a clean and sterile environment. It’s just a matter of the powers above us concerting their efforts to bring the Mi-17 helicopters into FOB Robinson.”
The Sangin Valley remains a dangerous area, but the ANA continue to conduct combat operations amidst the challenges. The ANA and SFAAT 2-215 both hope the LZ will be used to provide much needed support to the 2nd Brigade in the Sangin Valley.
Colonel Christopher Douglas, SFAAT 2-215 team leader, who was also present during the survey, offered his advice to the ANA team concerning the LZ and gave them a thumbs-up for future air operations.
“The LZ is suitable for their use,” said Douglas, from Ballston Spa, N.Y. “At this present time, they’re in the lead. The LZ is going to be one more opportunity for them to operate completely without coalition support.”