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Military units use terrain to train

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The green, rolling hills of West Virginia may be the nearest thing to heaven ever known by singer Emmylou Harris, but they're also a pretty close match to the hellish terrain aircrews fly through, drop supplies on and land in while supporting troops in Afghanistan.

A military application to the Mountain State's mountainous terrain is being showcased this week during Sentry Storm, a training exercise involving about 450 airmen and soldiers from the Air National Guard, Army National Guard and Army Reserve units in five states.

Earlier this week, training activities included a downed aircraft search-and-rescue scenario at the Center for National Response training area near Gallagher and the Memorial Tunnel, and a medical evacuation exercise at Raleigh County Memorial Airport in Beckley using UH 60 helicopters from the 2/ 104th General Support Aviation Battalion in Parkersburg. There was also ATV training for Air National Guard security force troops at a drop zone in Logan County.

On Wednesday, Sentry Storm's activities involved C-130 aircrews from the Charleston-based 130th Airlift Wing, the 145th Airlift Wing in Charlotte, N.C, and the 139th Airlift Wing in St. Joseph, Mo. The three Air National Guard units practiced low-level flying, made simulated resupply air drops, and performed takeoffs and landings while flying supplies to relatively short mountain airfields in Mingo and Logan counties.

Wednesday's training scenario involved a West Virginia that was occupied by a friendly population in the north, while an insurgent force was making inroads in the south.

"You should consider anything in the south to be contested territory," said Senior Master Sgt. Angela Coleman, who delivered a pre-mission intelligence briefing. Possible threats from insurgents included machine gun and small-arms fire and possible shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile attacks, she said.

Wednesday's air drops were made at the West Virginia National Guard's Fola drop zone on the Clay-Nicholas border, while resupply landings were practiced at Appalachian Regional Airport near Williamson in Mingo County and at Logan County Airport near Logan.

"These mountaintop airports that are a little shorter and narrower than normal give us a great opportunity to practice putting the ship down at exactly the right point," said Maj. Ben Simerman of the 130th Airlift Wing. "They're similar to some of the fields we used in our deployments to Afghanistan."

Thursday's Sentry Storm training schedule includes A-10 Thunderbolt attack jets from the Maryland Air National Guard supporting low-level air drops by C-130s at the West Virginia Air National Guard's Camp Branch drop zone in Logan County.

West Virginia National Guard facilities at Camp Dawson in Preston County and at the 167th Airlift Wing's base in Martinsburg also are hosting Sentry Storm training operations.

By offering training facilities and programs for National Guard and Reserve forces in the East and the Midwest in a fiscal era in which traditional operational readiness inspections have been put on hold, the West Virginia National Guard may be able to position itself as a regional training center.

"The emphasis now is on cost-efficient mission readiness, and we're trying to show that this is what a new inspection process could look like," said Capt. Heather Ward of the 130th Airlift Wing.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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