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Task Force Saber exploits the initiative in the fight against ISIS

By Capt. Stephen James 29th Combat Aviation Brigade

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ERBIL, Iraq, July 24, 2017 — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory against ISIS in the city of Mosul, July 9, 2017. Supporting the fight against ISIS is the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade’s 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment. Organized as Task Force Saber, the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt. provides reconnaissance, surveillance, logistical support and offensive strike capabilities while supporting partner forces in both Iraq and Syria.

ERBIL, Iraq - CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the B Company, 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Saber, undergo maintenance and inspections at Erbil, Iraq, July 10, 2017. The CH-47 Chinook provides a vital lift capability to Task Force Saber which increases the capability and mobility of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen James)
ERBIL, Iraq - CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the B Company, 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Saber, undergo maintenance and inspections at Erbil, Iraq, July 10, 2017. The CH-47 Chinook provides a vital lift capability to Task Force Saber which increases the capability and mobility of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen James)
ERBIL, Iraq - CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the B Company, 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Saber, undergo maintenance and inspections at Erbil, Iraq, July 10, 2017. The CH-47 Chinook provides a vital lift capability to Task Force Saber which increases the capability and mobility of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen James) TF Saber Chinooks
ERBIL, Iraq - CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the B Company, 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Saber, undergo maintenance and inspections at Erbil, Iraq, July 10, 2017. The CH-47 Chinook provides a vital lift capability to Task Force Saber which increases the capability and mobility of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen James)
The battle for Mosul coincided almost directly with Task Force Saber’s entry into the theater.

“When we first started, there were only a couple of neighborhoods liberated on the eastern side [of Mosul],” said Maj. James Brant, the operations officer for Task Force Saber.

“The Iraqis really put their heart into the fight,” said Brant.

The 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., became an enabling force for the Coalition by emboldening the Iraqi security forces and supporting them with fires, said Lt. Col. Eddy Lee, the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., commander.

“This is a fight where you feel you have a purpose and see the greater good,” said Brant.

The 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., is equipped with the AH-64E Apache Helicopter, described by Lee as the “best platform of choice to fight in this environment.”

The Apache itself became a symbol of American support to the partner forces on the ground.

“The Iraqis wanted Apaches there as a message to ISIS,” said Brant.

The Apache helicopter pairs with the RQ-7Bv2 Shadow Unmanned Aerial System which performs reconnaissance and surveillance for the Coalition.

“The Shadow identifies enemy personnel and hands the target off to the fires platform to strike it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Paul Van Loan, the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., UAS operations technician.

These fires platforms include the AH-64E Apache and the 29th CAB’s MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” unmanned aircraft from D Company, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

The Shadow, working in tandem with these fires assets, proved to be highly effective and “took it to ISIS in areas they thought they were safe,” said Van Loan.

“The 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., attacks the enemy in a time and place of our choosing, in a place he does not expect us to attack,” said Lee.

Although their equipment proved vital to the battle, one of the keys to the fight against ISIS was the mindset ingrained into the Soldiers of Task Force Saber.

 Prior to deploying to the Middle East, the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., trained to maintain a high state of combat readiness and prepared from the onset to be ready to get off the plane and start fighting, said Lee.

“We teach, train and empower our subordinates,” said Brant.

This expeditionary thought process trickled down to the most junior leaders and provided a foundation for action across the squadron.

“We have leaders that exploit the initiative,” said Lee.

ERBIL, Iraq – Crew chiefs assigned to B Company,2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Saber, conduct post-flight inspections on UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters at Erbil, Iraq, July 11,2017. The UH-60M Black Hawk provides Task Force Saber the capability to conduct distinguished visitor movement, logistical movement and aeromedical evacuation throughout the area of operations for Task Force Saber and Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen James)
ERBIL, Iraq – Crew chiefs assigned to B Company,2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Saber, conduct post-flight inspections on UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters at Erbil, Iraq, July 11,2017. The UH-60M Black Hawk provides Task Force Saber the capability to conduct distinguished visitor movement, logistical movement and aeromedical evacuation throughout the area of operations for Task Force Saber and Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen James)
ERBIL, Iraq – Crew chiefs assigned to B Company,2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Saber, conduct post-flight inspections on UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters at Erbil, Iraq, July 11,2017. The UH-60M Black Hawk provides Task Force Saber the capability to conduct distinguished visitor movement, logistical movement and aeromedical evacuation throughout the area of operations for Task Force Saber and Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen James) Post-flight inspections
ERBIL, Iraq – Crew chiefs assigned to B Company,2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Saber, conduct post-flight inspections on UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters at Erbil, Iraq, July 11,2017. The UH-60M Black Hawk provides Task Force Saber the capability to conduct distinguished visitor movement, logistical movement and aeromedical evacuation throughout the area of operations for Task Force Saber and Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Stephen James)
This approach translated to the battlefield as subordinate leaders were able to use the tools at their disposal to quickly bring the fight to the enemy and aid the Coalition.

“Our guys were the quickest from identifying to prosecuting the target,” said Capt. Jay Laing, commander of B troop, 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt.

“We focus operationally, are aggressive and have tactical curiosity. There is a fight out there and we want to be involved with it,” said Van Loan regarding the UAS operators.

Task Force Saber has the equipment and the mindset to actively aid partner forces in the fight against ISIS, but the most important factor was – and continues to be – their maintenance and sustainment Soldiers.

“If we lose maintainers, we lose the ability to push combat power forward,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shawn Middleton, 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., battalion aviation maintenance officer (BAMO).

“They are our lifeblood,” said Lee.

Compounding the complexity of aircraft maintenance was the fact that Task Force Saber elements were spread across different locations in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and initially, Afghanistan. Furthermore, the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., was the first unit to field the new “E” model Apache in theater.

“There were no ‘E’ model Apaches in theater at the time in Afghanistan and Iraq, we needed special tools and maintainers,” said Brant. In addition to bringing the first AH-64E helicopters to Operation Inherent Resolve, the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt. is the first unit to operate the U.S. Army’s new LAIRCM aircraft survivability equipment in combat.

The Task Force Saber maintenance and sustainment sections worked with the same levels of fervor and focus that AH-64E pilots brought to bear against enemy targets.

Maintenance Soldiers took the initiative with solid planning, which “was key to us continuously running missions to outlying stations,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Marshall, the Task Force Saber technical supply officer.

Task Force Saber continues to be a team effort, with Army National Guard and active-Army elements from the 29th CAB and 16th CAB, including the 46th Aviation Support Battalion, 449th Aviation Support Battalion, 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion and the 1-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion.

“The 2-149 GSAB showed up from day one ready to work and find ways to maintain aircraft,” said Middleton.

The 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., became the first unit to conduct phase maintenance on an AH-64E in Iraq, work that was completed solely by Task Force Saber Soldiers, including the 449th ASB, at their maintenance facility at Taji Military Complex, Iraq.

“They exceeded U.S. Army Forces Command standards for phase maintenance of the AH-64E for allotted time from start to completion,” said Middleton. “Without our phase line in Taji, none of this would be possible.”

Task Force Saber’s additional capabilities allow it to conduct missions beyond attacking the enemy, including aeromedical evacuation, distinguished visitor and logistical moves, said Brant.

The distinguished visitor movements, in particular, enabled the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command (CJFLCC) to accomplish their “advise and assist” mission as it allowed for key leaders to speak directly with their Iraqi counterparts, said Lee.

Middleton also noted that Task Force Saber’s strong maintenance program “allows the aviators of Saber to move people around the battlefield and support our Coalition partners on the ground.”

As the fight against ISIS in Iraq enters into a new phase, elements of Task Force Saber will simultaneously continue operations in Syria and will support Operation Spartan Shield in Kuwait by conducting deck landing qualifications later this summer. Task Force Saber’s 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., is set to return to Joint Base Lewis-McChord this fall.

The 29th CAB, an Army National Guard unit, will continue to provide aviation assets, offensive strike capability, operational and logistical support to Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield for the remainder of the year.