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Helicopter operations team sets course for Global Strike Challenge sweep

  • Published
  • By John Turner
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
True to the "Pathfinders" logo painted on the tail of its UH-1N Iroquois aircraft, Team Malmstrom's helicopter operations team is leading the 341st Missile Wing into Global Strike Challenge 2015.

The helicopter operations competition Aug. 9-11 at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming, is the first event for the wing as teams representing Malmstrom's Intercontinental Ballistic Missile operations, maintenance and security missions prepare to show they are the best in Air Force Global Strike Command.

Four aircrew members from the 40th Helicopter Squadron and two tactical response force members from the 741st Missile Security Forces Squadron comprise Malmstrom's helicopter operations team. They will be competing against similar teams from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming.

This will be the first Global Strike Challenge since helicopter squadrons at the three ICBM bases became part of the 20th Air Force's 582nd Helicopter Group based at F.E. Warren.

There will be three events, each designed to test a different aspect of the helicopter operations and tactical response force combined mission.

An emergency security response will test the team's ability to rapidly react to a hostile security incident at a missile launch facility. The TRF members must accurately assess the situation, identify all threats in the area, and decide where to insert a responder to eliminate the biggest threat. After a lane is cleared for a second landing, the other TRF member will assault the site.

A night time, low-level flight will test the crew's ability to navigate using night vision goggles. Aircrew will have to demonstrate aircraft control by maintaining flight altitudes between 100-200 feet above ground, avoiding simulated threat engagement areas, and managing speed and timing to pick up their TRF team at one site and infiltrate them to another site at an exact time to simulate assaulting and regaining control of a critical component, also under night vision devices.

The final event is a daylight search and rescue scenario. The aircrew must find the TRF members at each of two sites and maintain a precision hover 100 feet above ground while lowering a litter to each simulated casualty within a target ring. The crew will then return to hoist the TRF members aboard.

All events are graded based on overall time, keeping to prescribed altitudes and speeds, and the tactical and technical abilities of aircrew and TRF.

Capt. Gregory Johnston, 40th HS, is the team's aircraft commander. He has been at Malmstrom two years, the longest of the team's aircrew.  He said he considers it an honor that a young crew was selected to represent Malmstrom.

"None of us are instructors," Johnston said. "We're a little bit more junior (than the competition) so we're looking to show them that you don't have to be an instructor to be super-awesome, and prove that Malmstrom has the best crew no matter their crew position or experience level."

Johnston said that daily operations over Malmstrom's 13,800 square mile missile complex will give his team a slight advantage, since Camp Guernsey's terrain, altitude and temperatures are similar to central Montana. The 40th HS is also very proficient in tactical and night operations because of the security mission here.

"If you look at what the competition is, it's all stuff we do daily and quite frankly the 40th is expert at, especially search and rescues," he said. "That's kind of our bread and butter."

In his off time, Johnston enjoys bicycling, spending time with his wife and dog, and "tasting the finest coffees in the land" around Great Falls, Montana.

Capt. Donald Feely, 40th HS, is the team's co-pilot. He has been at Malmstrom for a year and a half. Like the other aircrew members, this is Feely's first Global Strike Challenge competition.

"It's great to be selected, and especially to send a bunch of younger guys," he said. "It says very highly about all of us."

Feely loves the outdoors and enjoys mountain biking with Johnston in his leisure time.
Staff Sgt. James McMullen, 40th HS, is one of the team's two special missions aviators. Their role is to operate the helicopter's hoist, secure everything in the cabin and manage passengers.

"We still call ourselves flight engineers," he said, noting that the old duty title is still deeply ingrained within the career field. And, he jokes, "It's easier to say than special missions aviator."

McMullen is confident that his team will perform well at the competition.

"I think we're going to give it our all," he said. "If you're not first, you're last."

McMullen hails from Alaska and has been at Malmstrom for less than a year. He says he spends most of his free time "hanging around the house" with his wife and child.
Staff Sgt. Eric McElroy, 40th HS, is the team's other special missions aviator and will work hand-in-hand with McMullen during the competition.

"My role in the team is I keep the morale up," McElroy quipped. "If we're having a bad day, I usually crack a joke or tell a story and it makes everybody happy again."

He joked that the team does group calisthenics and has a bagel eating competition each morning to prepare for the competition. In a more serious moment, McElroy positively appraised the team's readiness.

"In our hearts we are the best base," he said. "They can grade us however they want to but we know we get the saves, we have the best crew, we have the best pilots and best flight engineers that these three bases have to offer. So regardless, in our hearts we're going to win."

McElroy is originally from Kansas and owns a Great Dane named Choncho. His small family is about to increase as he and his wife are expecting their first child.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Hart, 741st MSFS tactical response force flight chief and flight trainer, brings Global Strike Challenge experience to the team. He was on last year's helicopter operations team when Malmstrom won Best Tactics. That was the first year security forces were integrated into the events, he said, and this time he knows better what to expect. He thinks this will help him assist the aircrew and his security forces partner in making sound tactical decisions.

Hart has been a TRF member at Malmstrom for three and a half years.

"We have a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience when it comes to emergency response criteria and launch facility recaptures as well as basic helicopter cop tactics," he said. "Our role is to provide the security aspect for the aircraft and to provide the lethal edge for the team wherever they decide to put us in at or for whatever we're called to do."

Hart says that while the team is training day and night for the competition, most of the events are within the realm of what he does every day at Malmstrom. Learning to ride the hoist for the search and rescue evaluation is a unique experience for security forces, he said, but it has been fun.

"I refuse to go down and come back with anything less than first place," he said. "This year we're going to beat Minot and F.E. in all three categories and come home with the big trophies."

Hart is originally from Colorado and enjoys outdoors activities, especially shooting and snowboarding.

Staff Sgt. Steven Trantham, 741st MSFS tactical response force trainer, is from Oklahoma and also enjoys snowboarding.  He has been at Malmstrom for five and a half years but this is his first Global Strike Challenge competition. Trantham and Hart regularly work with the 40th HS to plan training and exercises, and this operational familiarity is beneficial.

"Malmstrom's going to win," Trantham said. "We're definitely going to win across the board this year."

Global Strike Challenge is the world's premier bomber, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and security forces competition. Through competition and teamwork at various locations throughout the country, the event looks to foster esprit de corps, recognize outstanding AFGSC personnel and teams and improve combat capabilities. More than 450 Airmen from across AFGSC, as well as the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command, Air Force Materiel Command and Air Combat Command will take part in Global Strike Challenge competitions at various locations throughout the country, culminating in a symposium and score posting event at Barksdale Oct. 20-21.

The wing's Global Strike Challenge 2015 kickoff activities will be Aug. 28 at the Grizzly Bend.