Think of a NASCAR pit-stop, but for helicopters: that’s what soldiers were practicing at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport on Wednesday.
According to spokesperson Captain Kyle Abraham, soldiers assigned to Alpha Company, 46th Aviation Support Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, have practice in fueling helicopters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). The training exercise at the airport earlier this week was meant to get them out of their comfort zones and into a new environment to practice the skills.
“To kind of help them become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Getting that expeditionary mindset by operating in unfamiliar places,” Abraham said.
Soldiers there were from both the Lewis and McChord sides of JBLM, meaning there were both U.S. Army and Air Force personnel.
Training took place on both a cargo-carrying Chinook helicopter, which Abraham called a “workhorse,” and a Black Hawk.
Soldiers had practice in both regular and “hot” fueling, meaning fueling the helicopter while off and while idle. The latter is both more mechanically complicated and with the noise of helicopter blades, soldiers must use non-verbal communication to complete the task.
Abraham said these practices become second-nature for many, but in an unfamiliar environment, one has to think through the process more deeply.
Despite previous experience, the look of excitement on the soldiers’ faces when the helicopter rotors began to turn was unmistakable. The airport parking lot was also filled with spectators who wanted to see the unique aircraft.
“Even though it seems fairly innocuous, there's a lot of benefits to just being somewhere different and we're so grateful to the Chehalis-Centralia airport for hosting us and allowing the training to happen,” Abraham said.
“It's important for our partnership. Not just for community relations but operationally as well.”