The pilots of 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, took to the sky at the Multi-Purpose Range Complex at Fort Stewart Jan. 19 and will continue to sharpen their skills until Feb. 5 during aviation aerial gunnery training.
According to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gregory Marotz, squadron senior warrant officer and standardization instructor pilot, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, the exercises were to make the crews more proficient in their ability to conduct combat operations with the AH-64 Apache helicopter.
Marotz said they don’t just throw pilots into aircraft and expect them to be polished and perfect.
“We start out in the simulator and we have them go through a series of engagements just like what they would do out here (MPRC),” Marotz said. “It incorporates the use of rockets, the 30 millimeter [cannon] and the Hellfire missile. They find targets, track them and then engage with whatever weapons system is appropriate.”
After honing their skills in the simulator, the pilots then proceed to the live gunnery tables. After they go through the tables, they come in and review their performance with the help of the current squadron master gunner and Marotz, who was the previous squadron master gunner.
“This is the seat of knowledge,” Marotz said. “What is really fun is when the squadron commander sits back here and watches as the pilots are debriefed. There is a lot of pressure on these guys to perform well.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Travis Williams, Troop C, 3rd Squadron, was one of the pilots in the gunnery. He was an enlisted soldier for eight years and worked as a combat engineer.
“I’ve done multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan on the ground as a combat engineer and had my butt saved many times by Apaches, and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Williams said. “I got lucky. I got picked up, and I’ve been flying them for the past seven years now.”
It’s not often one gets to work at a dream job. Williams knows this and is grateful.
“It’s the greatest thing ever. Imagine coming home and telling your neighbor you’ve been flying around in an Apache all day. I love it,” Williams said.
Williams’ front-seat pilot, 1st Lt. Douglas Rosendahl, Troop C, is the newer, younger pilot of the two. He said he still gets excited every time he flies.
“It’s awesome. It’s such a rush each and every single time,” Rosendahl said. “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.”
Williams talked about what it feels like as he prepares himself to qualify on the gunnery tables.
He said he has been known to get a little nervous.
“Everything we do in that helicopter is recorded, and that’s how we get graded,” Williams said. “The community is so small, and there is a huge sense of competition. You’re always trying to do better than the next guy, and you don’t want to be the guy that does the worst because it’s all going to be on tape. Forever.
“You want to do it right,” he continued. “Because if you don’t do it right here in garrison, you’re probably not going to be able to go down range and do it for real.”