I returned yesterday from my first aviation field exercise. We were in the woods from Tuesday morning until Friday. This was the last training exercise of my flight school career. I will turn in my gear next week and graduate.
The aviation community is replete with stories about how cushy field exercises can be, especially compared to those experienced by soliders in the infantry and other branches. I had heard tales of Chinook pilots wheeling refrigerators out of the back of their helicopters to plug into the ever present generator. Coolers of steak and soda, tables, chairs, and barbeque grills were all common items seen when aviators were in the field. After all, pilots are limited by what we can carry in our helicopters, not by what we can carry on our backs.
The stories appear to be true. The intent of the field exercise was for us to plan missions in a field environment and then fly them in the AVCATT simulator. This, however, did not take up most or even the majority of the time for most of the students. Those without leadership roles, in particular, had a lot of free time. We all spent a lot of time in our 30 person tent sitting on our cots or in chairs, playing cards, listening to music, eating junk food, telling stories, and generally acting like high school kids at a sleep over party. We even ordered pizza to be delivered to the tents one night and then burned to boxes to keep our instructor from learning our dirty little secret when he came to check on us in the morning.
It was not all fun and games, however. Despite my best efforts I wound up with a leadership role. I was the flight lead for the third mission. The Air Mission Commander chose me because I am a flight school XXI student and had more experience in the aircraft than a lot of ther other students. Though I did not want the job it appears that the army has some rules about Warrant Officers doing what they are told to do by more senior officers. Go figure.
Flight planning cut significantly into my card playing and nap time. The mission, however, went well. We carried 262 troops and 5 howitzers to the field to support the virtual troops fighting thier virtual battle. Though I did not want the job I was glad for the experience of being in charge of my own aircraft and successfully leading a flight of five others.
Like all vacations, the field exercise eventually came to an end. I probably gained weight and certainly slept more than I do at home. Nonetheless, it will be nice to sleep on a bed, rather than a cot again and continue the countdown toward graduation.