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Army Aviation Excels in Spite of Pandemic

Leadership Update / By BG Michael C. “Mac” McCurry: Wow! Two years certainly flies by (no pun intended), especially when pushing through contingency deployments, global re-posture, an election/confirmation cycle, and… a global pandemic! When I took the seat as Director of Army Aviation in the Pentagon in June of 2019, I could never have seen this coming. It has been a hard and challenging time for our nation and our Army, but our great aviation leaders, pilots, and maintainers out there persevered and kept Army Aviation at the forefront. I will highlight the unprecedented actions of the team below.

Crew members of the 211th Aviation Regiment conduct air support over the Neffs Canyon fire from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Salt Lake City, Utah, 20 September 2020./ U.S. ARMY NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO BY SPC JACOB JESPERSON

At this time last year, I laid out how we deliberately reorganized DAMO-AV to better position the directorate to implement the Chief of Staff of the Army’s top priorities. Little did we know that we would soon see a dramatic shift in the way we would conduct business as the pandemic erupted. As with the entire Army, our role as lead integrator of the Aviation Enterprise across the Army staff, industry, Congress, and the Total Force would become essential as we found ourselves squarely in the “Crisis” condition of the four C’s construct.

The high level of collaboration endemic in our branch has never been more important, and it paid dividends for Army Aviation as we battled the unforecasted impacts of a major pandemic while defending the homeland, supporting combatant commanders, reorganizing, modernizing, and preparing to meet future demands. Army Aviation support to the COVID response, wildfires, the formal addition of our newest G-3/5/7 field operating agency, the U.S. Army Aeronautical Support Agency (USAASA), and preparation for implementation of the Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model (ReARMM) kept the plate full.

Synchronizing Enterprise Efforts on Multiple Fronts

The Total Army Aviation force had a busy spring and summer of 2020. The Army Reserve and National Guard fixed-wing fleet increased their support to the force by almost 33% of their FY20 forecasted flight hours. Moving more than just medical personnel and supplies, the Army fully adapted to operating in a COVID environment. With no airline travel, fixed-wing units across the nation immediately stepped in to move key leaders and personnel to essential missions.

All three components responded to a highly dynamic natural disaster season, but none more than our tremendous Army National Guard, with 40th ECAB in the lead, employing aircraft and crews from multiple western states in response to apocalyptic wildfires in northern California and the Pacific Northwest. These highly proficient crews engaged in a different type of firefight, facing dangers not from the enemy weapons systems they trained for, but extremely hazardous mountain flying with high winds and raging infernos. The Total Aviation team did a lot of heavy lifting, with Soldiers fighting fires from the ground and air, UAS conducting reconnaissance, and, most notably, Army National Guard aircrews evacuating civilians trapped by the blaze. One heroic act in particular was highlighted by the President, who recognized several aircrew members with the presentation of the Distinguished Flying Cross on national television. Today the 40th ECAB continues to show its flexibility and support to the total force with mobilization for an upcoming overseas mission.

Airspace at Scale and Pace – Enabling Hypersonics!

Hypersonic weapons have recently emerged as a priority effort. A key stakeholder now works under the supervision of DAMO-AV – the now formally assigned field operating agency, the United States Army Aeronautical Services Agency (USAASA). As we seek to develop the capability to conduct testing and training for this capability, airspace becomes a challenge. USAASA has stepped to the plate and deep into planning and coordination with the FAA and others in support of this national defense priority.

Support and sustainment of CONUS-based testing also requires adjustments to airspace management and policy in the national airspace. USAASA is working to maintain the appropriate balance between national defense requirements and impacts to other airspace users.

The Test Resource Management Center is partnered with Johns Hopkins University, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and USAASA’s Department of the Army Representatives (DARs) to evaluate flight corridors to achieve this balance. This is a daunting task that USAASA remains committed to enabling.

ReARMMing Aviation: Managing Force OPTEMPO, Increasing Predictability and Enabling Modernization

Current worldwide aviation requirements remain high at roughly an 85% Total Army Aviation commitment putting the combat aviation brigade (CAB) among the lowest-density, highest-demand formations in our Army. Implementing ReARMM is essential to putting rigor and predictability to our modernization priorities, enabling intensive training cycles with fully equipped and manned units prepared for collective training proficiency, and then deploying those units to an aligned theater to meet combatant commanders’ requirements. The basis of this model is a unit life cycle that applies to all units of the Total Army, conforming principally to three windows (Modernization, Training, and Mission).

This is a challenge for the Aviation branch due to the complexity of our force but offers unique opportunities that Aviation has not enjoyed in more than two decades. Already, stakeholders from across the Aviation Enterprise have begun the hard work of planning and synchronizing full ReARMM implementation as the Army G-3 conducts analysis and ROC drills with our commanders at the corps and division levels.

Modernization: ReARMM will enable the Army to look beyond the program years and know with certainty the number of modernization windows a unit will go through, which will allow predictability to the force. This will be extremely critical to Army Aviation as we continue to field major systems and prepare for fielding of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft. This also allows the aviation force the time to implement force design updates as directed by Army senior leaders, as modernization also applies to our number one priority – our people! Allowing Soldiers time to accomplish professional development schooling at all levels so they are ready and available to train at the culmination of the modernization window is a key facet of the model.

Training: ReARMM will allow newly modernized aviation units to begin a predictable yet intensive eight-month training cycle with the latest equipment and a specific regional focus. It will leverage both home station training and predictable, sustainable, business-rule informed CTC rotations in preparation for the final phase of the ReARMM model.

Mission Window: With a modernized force, fully trained to a directed level of readiness, the shorter, eight-month mission window provides a sustainable timeframe to dynamically deploy tailored packages in support of priority missions. The missioned units will not be constrained by heel-to-toe rotations, which means they will deploy and redeploy their own equipment, retaining it for unprecedented periods of time – a much needed reform.

DAMO-AV remains at the center of this coordination and planning effort using input from existing aviation forums such as the Quarterly Aviation Synchronization Meeting, Aviation the Senior Leader Forum, and the Aviation Senior Leader’s Course to inform existing Army processes and decision-making boards.

It has never been a more exciting time to serve in Army Aviation. As I transition to Director of Force Development at HQDA G-8, and we prepare to welcome BG Clair Gill as the next Director of Army Aviation, I would like to thank our great branch chief, my fellow six-pack members, and all of our Army Aviation leaders for the tremendous work they do every day. It has been my distinct honor to serve with you in the building for the past two years!

People First – Winning Matters – Army Strong!

BG Michael C. (Mac) McCurry is the Director of Army Aviation at Headquarters, Department of the Army G-3/5/7 (DAMO-AV).

Editor’s Note: The ARMY AVIATION Magazine team thanks BG Mac McCurry for his support over the past two years and we wish him all the best in his new assignment.

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