US Army, May 12, 2018 - VALGA, ESTONIA by Sgt Gregory Summers - Estonian soldiers took a knee in a tactical column with their gear and assigned weapons and awaited the arrival of their transportation so they could begin movement.
Then, forceful gusts of winds and the sound of chopping rotor blades came roaring in as U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters landed in an adjacent field; their transportation had arrived.
U.S. Army troopers of Company B, 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, partnered and trained with Estonian Defence Force soldiers to conduct air assault operations May 7-11, in training areas near Valga, Estonia.
The training was part of the Estonian-led Operation Hedgehog, a multinational exercise with over a dozen ally and partner nations working together to enhance readiness and interoperability in the Baltic region.
“Our company is partnering with the Estonian forces during the operation,” said Capt. Kyle Jensen, a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot and commander of Company B. “We are conducting air assault and air mobility training to facilitate movements of tactical troops as they seize objectives and carry out various effects on the enemy.”
During the exercise, the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades of the Estonian Defence Force role-played opposing forces against each other as they carried out operations and tactics to simulate force-on-force combat scenarios.
Those scenarios included the movement of over 100 Estonian soldiers in two separate air assault missions to gain key terrain and place troops in the appropriate places for strategic maneuvers.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brett Jenkins, a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot with Company B, said that the training was a unique learning opportunity for both countries.
“The Estonians don’t do a lot of air assault and offensive operations, but together we worked out ways for their ground units to integrate with our air assets to use to their advantage,” explained Jenkins. “By training and working together, we are building upon and strengthening our interoperability.”
Pilots of the company worked closely with Estonian soldiers planning, discussing and comparing maps for pick-up and drop-off locations prior to beginning rapid airlift movements.
“While the final 30-seconds of an air assault looks and feels so easy, the 96-hours leading up to it is what actually makes it look that way,” Jenkins said. “Because of the planning and coordinating we did together with the Estonians, we were all working from the sheet of music to conduct successful air assaults.”
Estonian soldiers charged in and out of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters during the assaults, most with smiles on their faces.
Estonian 1st Lt. Pritt Lillemets, a company executive officer with the 1st Infantry Brigade, said that his soldiers were extremely grateful for the training.
“It is a cool opportunity to train with the Air Cav and working together with them has been the highlight of the exercise,” Lillemets said. “This has been a great learning opportunity for us.”
Troopers of 3-227 AHB were also grateful to have worked with their Estonian counterparts.
“I am continuously blown away by working with the Estonians,” Jenkins said. “They’ve done a great job working with us, teaching us things and it’s all been great training for us.”
“An exercise like this is why we are here,” Jenkins added about his unit supporting Atlantic Resolve.
1st ACB is currently deployed in support of Atlantic Resolve, a U.S. endeavor to fulfill NATO commitments by rotating U.S.-based units throughout the European theater to deter aggression against NATO allies and partners in Europe.
Company B, 3-227 AHB has been conducting aviation operations as part of Atlantic Resolve out of Lielvarde, Latvia and training with surrounding nations in the Baltic region.
“This exercise definitely proves that we truly are assurance and deterrence, while strengthening our relationships like we did in Estonia this week,” Jensen added.