Director of Army Aviation / By BG Michael C. (Mac) McCurry:The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge around the world, and for all Americans. The military and its Servicemembers have borne a proportionate share of that burden while demonstrating a firm resolve to prevail.
As the coronavirus spread across the country, one of the Army’s primary tasks became protecting the force so we could protect the Nation. Staying home when possible and practicing social distancing became our best line of defense against further spreading the disease, and our surest way to keep ourselves and loved ones healthy. For many Servicemembers, and certainly the Army Aviation team, sheltering in place was not an enduring option. The essential operations conducted by Army Aviation could not pause for long. Indeed, many Aviation units were called upon to provide additional COVID support. Army Aviation took this challenge in stride, continuing to execute missions at home and abroad while adjusting to the new reality of life during a pandemic. However, the nearly seamless continuity of operations belies the monumental efforts of the Aviation force writ large.
Our branch coordinates at the enterprise level like few others. Years of well-rehearsed, routine coordination enabled rapid adaptation and was the foundation for many adjustments, from changing the fixed wing transport mission validation apparatus to developing health protection mitigation strategies for flight school. Flexibility is a core competency of Army Aviation. Just as our Aviators are adept at coordinating fire and maneuver across multiple echelons, our action officers, civilians, and contractors, are comfortable reaching out across multiple organizations to kill inefficiency and ensure we are employing every capability. All this results in our Aviation Soldiers in the field having the necessary resources and information to remain operationally effective in the face of new challenges.
Addressing COVID required the same high level of coordination and unrivaled flexibility from our Aviators to react with the speed that was both necessary and characteristic of the branch. Information flowed quickly across the enterprise and Army Aviators effectively responded to the emerging needs of the Army and the Nation.
Support to COVID Response
As we gained awareness of the pandemic and the actions it would take to combat it, we wanted to enable Army Aviation to be as flexible and responsive as possible in order to aid in that effort. At the HQDA-level we reduced bureaucracy for operational support airlift requests and flattened decision-making. Army requirements to support COVID response – moving critical medical teams cross-country, delivering key enablers to the point of need, etc. – became our fixed wing fleet’s primary mission. HQDA eliminated the requirement to request missions through the Joint Operational Support Airlift Center (JOSAC) while still supporting the joint force when Army assets were available. This allowed FORSCOM to assign priorities. Our Special Operations Aviation (SOA) fixed wing assets were expertly integrated into the effort and carried a significant load as well.
Training During a Pandemic
COVID presents obvious challenges to aviation operations. Socially distancing is difficult inside the cockpit. This potentially hinders the training environment. However, given the ongoing shortfall of pilots within Army Aviation, it was vital the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE) continue its mission to provide new Aviators for the Army. DAMO-AV analyzed force health protection data as it became available and shared it quickly across the force. The team developed procedures enabling Aviators to fly while minimizing the risk to their health. MG Francis and the USAACE team applied these new procedures – such as ensuring cloth face masks are a part of every flight and limiting potential exposure of all Fort Rucker personnel – into flight training operations. These in-stride adjustments kept USAACE on track to meet their U.S. student training quota by the end of the year. In addition to their work keeping pace on this year’s goals, conditions are set to expand training throughput next year to continue addressing the Army’s pilot shortfall.
Maximizing Readiness by Remaining Flexible
As COVID impacted different regions in different ways, it was important for Army Aviation to remain flexible in order to maximize readiness. The Aviation Enterprise coordinated waivers to regulations that were impractical during a pandemic. DAMO-AV granted temporary waivers to maintenance test pilot (MTP) students unable to attend the Aviation Maintenance Officer Course (AMOC), allowing them to function as MTPs at the platoon and company level until they can attend AMOC. This provided commanders some breathing room to capitalize on recent graduates of the MTP course in order to maximize readiness. This is only one example of many common-sense actions to provide flexibility for commanders during the pandemic and enable combat aviation brigades (CABs) to return to training.
COVID impacts our lives daily, but the work of Army Aviation continues in earnest. At the HQDA-level we are currently working with our Congressional partners to ensure Army Aviation has the resources it needs to remain operationally effective at home and while deployed in the coming year. We continue to work with our industry partners to ensure vital modernization programs don’t fall behind schedule. Our Aviation units continue to train for Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO). We will accomplish our goals by remaining flexible and adaptable as a force. I know Army Aviators will continue to display the highest level of professionalism and commitment in the face of this pandemic.
People First-Winning Matters!
BG Michael C. (Mac) McCurry is the Director of Army Aviation at Headquarters, Department of the Army G-3/5/7 (DAMO-AV).
As a COVID19 mitigation, Fort Rucker instructor and students conduct their “deskside” brief next to the Apache helicopter, as they prepare for gunnery training./ U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY KELLY MORRIS, PAO, USAACE