After completing a two-day evaluation exercise last week, engineer squads with the 92nd Engineer’s “Black Diamonds” Battalion took the quickest means of transportation to get home.
The battalion dropped onto Fort Stewart’s Donovan Field via Black Hawk helicopters — a fitting way to return, as that was how they began Diamond Forge 36 hours earlier.
“Five mikes,” Capt. Matvey Vikhrov, the unit’s S-3 Air, shouted as he monitored radio traffic with the incoming helicopters. “Five more minutes!”
Although those five minutes stretched into 15 minutes, the Airborne Ranger and Sapper-qualified engineer officer laughed as he repeated the same estimated time on target to other officers and noncommissioned officers who were preparing to meet the aircraft on the landing zone.
Clouds were rolling in and the wind was picking up. Another message from the birds warned they might only be able to make one lift if conditions continued to worsen. Vikhrov, originally from the Ukraine, passed along the information, so back-up arrangements were made for transporting the soldiers out at Taro landing zone back to Stewart’s cantonment area.
Finally, thunder rumbled in the distance. One of the NCOs pointed to the skyline where two Black Hawks were seen at treetop level heading toward the landing zone. The aircraft were following Harmon Avenue.
The troop helicopters made a button-hook turn just before reaching Winn Army Community Hospital, and then tilted their noses upward as they prepared to land.
Soldiers weighed down with rucksacks, weapons and other gear immediately began unloading both sides of the Black Hawks then took up defensive positions and faced outward.
When all personnel were unloaded, loadmasters climbed back on board. Seconds later, the helicopters took off and headed back for the second lift. Weather conditions apparently had improved.
With the Black Hawks gone and the noise subsided, squad leaders directed their troops to move quickly across the landing zone to the assembly area. Staff Sgt. David Guice answered questions about his squad’s performance during the squad-evaluation exercise.
“I feel pretty confident about it,” he said, still breathing heavily from his run off the landing zone. “Infantry is not our thing, and we did a lot of infantry tasks, but for a heavy engineer squad, I think we did a good job. We started with seven soldiers and finished with seven soldiers, and we completed the mission with no other NCOs. They had grabbed my team leaders to serve as squad leaders for other squads, so I had (privates first-class) performing the duties of team leaders.”
Guice said the leader’s reaction course was the only part of the exercise that he was aware of how well they had done. A timed sub-task in that lane required his squad to take a duffle bag filled with parts from five different weapons and put them together.
“I assigned each weapon to the subject matter expert for that weapon,” he said and grinned, proud that his younger soldiers were able to meet the challenge presented to them. “At the construction lane, we had to build a berm that was 6-feet high and 75 meters long.”
Going on five hours sleep since the exercise began, Guice and his soldiers were eager to get back to the battalion area, where they could clean and turn in their weapons and sensitive equipment, and then be released for a hot meal and sleep.
The exercise was over, and regardless of where they stood with points in the squad competition, they were satisfied they had proven both the effectiveness of their training level and their cohesiveness as a unit.