PERSIAN GULF - The U.S. Army’s 3-159th "Quickstrike" Attack Reconnaissance Battalion met the USS New York in the Persian Gulf June 22 bringing with them a lot of firsts.
The battalion became the first to land an AH-64D Longbow Apache aboard the vessel when they partnered with the Navy crew to train the Army pilots how to land on the deck of a ship.
“We’ve never had an Apache aboard this ship until today,” said Navy Capt. Jon Kreitz, commanding officer of the USS New York. “We take every chance we get to do something special and today is no different."
After flying from their base of operations in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, over the Persian Gulf, the 3-159th ARB Commander Lt. Col. Steve Murphy and his crew of four pilots arrived at the USS New York. The pilots took turns landing the Apache helicopter on the ship. They performed deck landing qualifications and can now train other pilots in the battalion.
“We are the first active duty group to perform this kind of mission,” said Chief Warrant Officer Four Thomas Higgins, "Quickstrike" battalion aviation safety officer. “It’s a really big deal actually, because this type of training is usually limited to special forces."
The mission was conceived in January when Battalion Master Gunner Chief Warrant Officer 3 Glenn Blanche trained with the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division. Since then it was a developing opportunity for the battalion.
“Not only do we qualify our pilots, we fill a major capabilities gap for the Navy,” said Higgins. “The armament and flight capabilities of the Apache are widely varied from the Cobra helicopter and give traditional blue water Navy a kind of security they’ve never had."
The training took place over two days and will continue through the ARB’s deployment to Kuwait as part of their mission in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
In addition to the training benefits, getting to see the USS New York was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“I was a Marine for over ten years and never even got on a ship,” said Higgins.
The U.S. Navy commissioned the USS New York as the fourth amphibious transport dock ship in their worldwide fleet. As an amphibious transport unit its primary mission is to deploy for rapid transport of personnel and equipment.
The USS New York deployed to the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf on March 27, 2012, for its first deployment. It is commanded by Kreitz and operated by a crew of just more than 300 sailors. When carrying a combat unit, the full personnel capacity of the ship can reach more than 1,100 sailors and Marines.
Equipped with four medium speed diesel engines, the USS New York can reach speeds above 22 knots, or about 25 miles per hour. It is armed with two MK 31 missile launchers and a dozen mounted machine guns. Despite a length of 684 feet and displacement of 24,900 tons, the USS New York can maneuver with the best of them.
“You wouldn’t believe it but this ship has the sharpest turn radius in the fleet,” said Kreitz. “Sharper, faster and better even than the cruisers. This ship is one of a kind.”
But its most striking feature may be the use of steel from the World Trade Center buildings in New York. Over seven and a half tons of steel from the remains of the Twin Towers were melted down and used in the construction of the vessel. Throughout the ship there are numerous tributes honoring those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy.
The USS New York is already a unique vessel for this reason, but now it becomes the first vessel to host this kind of advanced aviation training with an Army attack reconnaissance battalion.
“I have mentor pilots who’ve never done anything like this,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Heath Hielsberg. “To be a part of the only active duty squad flying onto boats is fascinating.”
Other pilots involved with the training included Chief Warrant Officers 3 Kevin Martin, Stephen Buckley and Jeffrey Wedgewood.
“It is a great accomplishment to be the first to land on the USS New York,” said Murphy. “It is an awesome ship, and it’s an honor to have our crews land on her.”
The 3-159th ARB will continue to operate over the gulf for the duration of its deployment, to include aerial gunnery and flight training missions.