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Do y’all have any idea how fortunate we are to have such a capable National Guard to protect us?
While they’re often overlooked in terms of the different branches of the military service, the National Guard, under the umbrella of the U.S. Army, plays a critical role in protecting the homeland—both here at home and overseas in combat.
Natural disaster? They’re here. Combat overseas? They’re there, too.
Members of the U.S. Army National Guard are charged with protecting us here at home in the event of a natural or other disaster as well as fighting for us overseas in a combat theater.
It is no small task. And it’s one that should be commended.
For the third consecutive year, the National Guard has chosen Brunswick County as the site of its annual large-scale training exercise. Multiple North Carolina units descend on Cape Fear Regional Jetport in Oak Island.
Also for the third consecutive year, they invited me to come out and cover their training, complete with a large-scale exercise involving the rescue of a “downed” Black Hawk helicopter. If you’ve never seen a Black Hawk helicopter in person, trust me, it’s truly a sight to behold. Probably the most famous combat helicopter in the United States’ fleet, the Black Hawk has seen action all over the globe.
The training exercise of rescuing the Black Hawk’s flight crew always proves to be a wonderful experience, and makes for really great photos.
But while the photos of the mock rescue of a downed Black Hawk helicopter makes for great action shots, Maj. Benny Collins, a seasoned pilot himself, reminded me recently, it’s not their main goal.
They’re an air traffic control unit.
So while the training exercise involved multiple units, from the Black Hawk flight crew to multiple fire fighter units, the goal of the training exercise was communication and the integration of the air traffic control unit with the flight operations unit.
The Black Hawk flight crew was the Charlie 1st 131 Co., an aviation unit based out of Salisbury. They recently returned from the eight-month tour of duty in Iraq. The firefighting crew, who rescued the flight crew was the 430th Fire Service.
The air traffic control unit is the 2nd 130 Airfield Operations Battalion. As its name suggests, the Airfield Operations Battalion provides air traffic services and airfield operations support in a disaster scenario stateside or in a combat theater. The battalion is getting ready to deploy to Kuwait in the fall.
We obviously wish them well with their deployment.
They also brought with them their multi-million-dollar Air Traffic Navigation Integration Control System radar as well as multiple mobile air traffic and flight operations units.
The technology they use and the training they must receive to effectively utilize that equipment is the best of the best.
Imagine a terrible scenario in which a large-scale hurricane made landfall in Brunswick County, destroying the airport. We would obviously still need airport operations for aircraft with personnel or supplies to land.
In that event, this National Guard unit would come in and set up, effectively running a fully operational airport with a seamless transition. Air traffic could resume, and we could get the critical help we would need in such a disaster. They function similarly in a combat situation, only, at times, under fire.
When you learn exactly what it is they do, it can be difficult to imagine how we would get by without them.
I certainly hope we never have to.
I’ve enjoyed my assignments that have taken me out to the Cape Fear Jetport to cover the training exercises with people who have now become familiar faces. I wish them safe travels and Godspeed as they set out for Kuwait.
They’ve even invited me to travel along to cover their mission. I’m not sure if I can get that one approved by the powers-that-be in our corporate office, but you never know.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this business, it’s that stranger things have happened.
Check out the photos from their training on page 15A of this week’s Beacon.
Caroline Curran is a staff writer and columnist at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @cgcurran.