Fort Bragg Cavalry Squadron Adds First Apache Helicopters

A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division conducts an aerial demonstration during the Airborne Review as part of All American Week 100 at Fort Bragg, N.C., May 25, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo)
A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division conducts an aerial demonstration during the Airborne Review as part of All American Week 100 at Fort Bragg, N.C., May 25, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo)

The 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment traces its history back to an era when cavalry troops meant soldiers mounted on horses.

The animals gave the soldiers an advantage on the battlefield, moving swiftly to scout out enemy positions and providing a tactical edge.

More than a century after it was first formed, the squadron -- now part of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade -- has essentially the same mission, but with aircraft. As the "eyes and ears of the 82nd Airborne Division," the 1-17th Cav trains to deploy quickly and then work with ground forces to identify and destroy the enemy.

In the more recent history of the squadron, that's required the use of small reconnaissance helicopters known as the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior.

But with the Army having retired those helicopters earlier this year, the 1-17th welcomed a new steed on Tuesday.

At Fort Bragg's Simmons Army Airfield, the squadron welcomed the first six AH-64D Apache helicopters in a fleet that will eventually feature two dozen of the heavily armed attack helicopters.

"This is our new horse we'll be riding into battle," said Lt. Col. Jonathan P. Tackaberry, the squadron commander, as he stood among the helicopters.

The aircraft, flown in from Fort Carson, Colorado, mark another step in the transformation of the squadron, which was the last Kiowa unit in the U.S. Army until the end of a nine-month deployment to South Korea earlier this year.

Now, the squadron is becoming the latest in a new type of unit, which will merge Apache helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Tackaberry said the unit will merge the capabilities the two aircraft provide, taking advantage of the firepower of the Apache and the sophisticated surveillance equipment that will come with the RQ-7 Shadow, a mid-sized unmanned aerial vehicle that is launched from a pneumatic catapult.

Apache pilots can peer through the Shadow's cameras, Tackaberry said. Once the unmanned aerial vehicle spots a target, the Apaches would then move out for the kill.

"Our mission as the cavalry hasn't changed," he said. "We're the eyes and ears out front of the division... We're going out looking for the enemy."

Roughly two dozen soldiers from the squadron greeted the helicopters on Tuesday evening. They included pilots, crew chiefs and maintainers who were offered a first look at the helicopters they'll soon work with nearly every day.

Pilots from the 4th Infantry Division's aviation brigade flew the helicopters from Colorado. The trip took about 13 flying hours, spread across two days with seven stops for gas along the way.

Command Sgt. Maj. Bradford Smith said soldiers have been preparing for the new helicopters as the unit is rebuilt from a Kiowa squadron to its future mix of manned and unmanned aircraft.

Some soldiers have recently returned from training at Fort Eustis, Virginia or Fort Rucker, Alabama, he said. Others have moved to the unit from other organizations that already had the Apache, such as the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade's attack battalion.

Smith said that sister battalion, the 1st Attack Aviation Battalion, 82nd Aviation Regiment, has graciously allowed the squadron to get on-the-job training using its Apache helicopters.

Eventually, the squadron will field 24 Apaches and 12 Shadows that will be distributed among four troops, each with eight helicopters and four unmanned aerial vehicles.

Tackaberry said two more helicopters will arrive Wednesday. The rest are expected in the fall and will come from aviation brigades across the Army. And the Shadows are slated to arrive next year.

He said the unit will waste no time in putting the helicopters to use. Its first training flights were scheduled to begin early Wednesday.

"We're still standing up, training new pilots," Tackaberry said. "This is one of the steps. Not the final step, though."

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