By Pvt. Cassandra Monroe
135th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Iowa National Guard
ST. PAUL, Minn. " Task Force Aviation, based at Holman Field near the St. Paul Municipal Airport, stands ready for any rapid reaction air transport needs that may come their way during the Republican National Convention.
Task Force Aviation, made up of Minnesota National Guard aviators and aircraft from surrounding states, is supporting local and federal law enforcement agencies by providing rapid, aviation-lift capability in the unlikely event a significant incident occurs.
These aviators have been preparing for this mission for months.
"We put the plan together, and figured out what we could and could not support, helicopter wise,"said Col. Mike Huddleston, the state Army Aviation officer for the Minnesota National Guard. "We've made sure we put the right crews with the right mix, as well as understanding what the other sister agencies are bringing forward for supporting the convention."
One big advantage these Minnesota National Guard aviators have is that they know this area very well, said Huddleston. "We can fly just about anywhere, and get there quicker than anyone else, as well as get into the area fairly easily," he said.
While speed is important, so is the unit's ability to move people and equipment. "We've got the capability to transport a good number of equipment and personnel," said Huddleston. "A UH-60 Black Hawk can fit about 12 people, while a CH-47 Chinook can carry about 30 to 35 people."
Sgt. Nathaniel Ernst is a crew chief whose duties include aircraft maintenance, preparing the aircraft for flight operations and controlling passengers on the aircraft during flights.
"We're expected to respond between 15 to 30 minutes,"said Ernst. "We're here on 12-hours shifts, so anytime a call comes in, we'll be prepared."
Preparing for this mission was not without its challenges. A big concern was getting enough aircraft and personnel ready to go for the mission, since some Minnesota aviation units are deployed or waiting for aircraft to return from deployments, said Ernst.
"Our team borrowed aircraft from different states, such as North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan in order to prepare for the mission," he said.
Although some Task Force Aviation members just returned from deployment, their transition has gone well, which helped them prepare for this mission.
"We recently got back from Iraq about a month ago, and we were given the word back then to start making initial plans for that the convention,"said Chief Warrant Officer Curtis Skoog, a standardization instructor pilot with the 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 147th Aviation.
"It's great to be back. The deployment went really well for the unit. You want to get back with your families and reestablish relationships. So coming back to work has been an easy transition. We've been planning on this convention for a couple months,"said Skoog
Overseas deployments have increased these aviators' skills and experience, and helped them prepare for this mission. "It's a breath of fresh air to give crews a left and right limit, and you know they're going to take that ball and run with the product you need, which is supporting the task force commander for anything he may need,"said Huddleston, of some of the crew's recent deployments.
"I think as a whole, were doing an outstanding job,"said Huddleston. "We're like the lifeguard, you never need them, but when you do, we're right here. The crew has a small frame of time to get out and be there, ready to respond. We're excited to support this event and we're just having a lot of fun."