1st Air Cav Shifts Tactics, Enables Iraqis to Complete Mission
By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2007 Changing up flight patterns in response to evolving threats and working together with Iraqi forces are keys to success in the skies over Baghdad, a coalition commander said today.
“It’s a chess game,” Army Col. Dan Shanahan told online journalists and “bloggers” during a conference call from sprawling Camp Taji, north of Baghdad. “It’s not just technology; it’s also tactics.”
Shanahan commands 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, and assigned to Multinational Division Baghdad. He and his team of nearly 3,000 personnel consisting of soldiers, airmen, one sailor and hundreds of civilian contractors, have spent the past 13 months keeping helicopters flying above Iraq around the clock to support combat teams on the ground.
“It’s said for every one hour we’ve been on the ground, we’ve flown about 10 hours, so far, in the air,” he said.
Each month, Shanahan’s H-64 Apaches, UH-60 Blackhawks, and CH-47 Chinooks are fired upon from the ground more than 200 times. Earlier this year, two of those Apaches were shot out of the sky by hostile fire, killing both flight crews.
“We’re flying a little bit differently; we’re putting a lot of effort in our planning,” the colonel said. “Each time our aircraft go out, we do a pretty good job of analyzing what the threat is.”
Shanahan’s attack helicopters typically engage pinpoint targets every other night. His reconnaissance teams constantly scan the skies for information. His medevac crews have carried out more than 3,000 missions, and his soldiers are ready to respond to any coalition ground unit that finds itself pinned down.
“Within minutes we have an aircraft on the scene providing support to coalition and U.S. forces,” the colonel said.
Inviting Iraqi military members to take part in missions has been part of the plan all along, Shanahan explained.
“At least 50 percent of our operations have been done with Iraqi forces as part of those operations,” he said. “It’s a joint operation, and we could not be doing this without the Iraqis as they continue to come forward.
One Iraqi who came forward just today is a general who serves as Baghdad’s operation commander and met with a group of American soldiers as they controlled unmanned aerial vehicles, the use of which has more than doubled recently, the colonel explained.
“He got to launch one of the UAVs today, very proud that he was the first Iraqi to launch a UAV here in Baghdad,” Shanahan said. “What he saw was technology that’s out there but also what it takes to help train that.”
(David Mays works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)