Here’s question we’ve heard several times in the months since last summer’s downing of a CH-47 Chinook in Afghanistan that killed 30 U.S. troops, including 17 Navy SEALs, and eight Afghan Commandos; would those men still be alive if they were traveling aboard an aircraft belonging to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment rather than a conventional Army Chinook?
The answer is a resounding no from senior Army aviators with both special operations and regular Combat Aviation Brigade experience, writes Military.com’s Mike Hoffman.
Army Col. Pedro Almeida, commander of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, commanded Task Force Falcon in Afghanistan. The aircrew that lost their lives that night was assigned to his command.
He explained that the crash, while tragic, never caused the special operations teams in Afghanistan to hesitate before stepping onto a helicopter flown by one of his aircrews.
“It was a huge tragedy for everyone involved but this is a dangerous business. I don’t think anyone out there who was involved in it has any misconceptions of that, and I don’t think anyone is changing and going back and peeling back and second guessing and saying we have to take a step back and go backwards,” Almeida said.
Col. John Thompson, commander of 160th SOAR, agreed. He explained that the crewmen who flew the Chinook that night had previously flown the same missions his pilots had.
At the critical moment, the aircrew didn’t matter. That night, the enemy got a vote.
“I don’t care what helicopter was flying that mission. That was a very unfortunate and tragic incident and regardless of what helicopter, they would have never survived the shot that it took,” Thompson said.
The Army’s top special operations aviation officer also supported the aircrew. Brig. Gen. Kevin Mangum, a former 160th SOAR commander, said special operators have not wavered in their support for conventional Army aviators.
“When someone challenged my boss and said, ‘Why in the world were those guys … just flying with Army aviators, they weren’t flying with the 160th?’ My boss … he about came unglued. He said, ‘What do you mean, just flying with Army aviation? Army aviators are the best in the world.’ We have the best army aviation in the world and we are proud to fly with those guys every night. We could not do what we’re doing without them,” Mangum said.
Click here to read the rest of Hoffman’s great piece.