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NEWS | Aug. 14, 2022

Helocast at Northern Strike 22

By Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera 126th Theater Public Affairs Support Element

Preparation is key to any task, and for units who are deploying, it is more essential that they prepare for what to expect overseas, and many of them are doing this in Camp Grayling, Mich.

This year exercise Northern Strike 22-2 is host to multiple units who are using their annual training to find out how they will be able to perform better while deployed.

“My unit is using Northern Strike as a preparation exercise for an upcoming deployment,” said Capt. Courtney Schoger, Liaison Officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Ohio National Guard. “The IBCT is here doing a validation exercise participating in Northern Strike with several other units from across the country. We have done this in the past and we’re just excited to be here again working toward the larger goal of training for a deployment.”

Schoger said her unit is using this training exercise as real world preparation. They are working to see what equipment works. If it does not work now, they will not have the time to fix it before they head overseas. The IBCT is also using the time to complete tasks that can be done before they go to their pre-mob station next month.

“Camp Grayling and Northern Strike gives us the opportunity with the different training spaces to accomplish our training objectives and to complete our mission essential task standards,” said Schoger. “We don’t get to do a lot of training like this for large scale combat operations. We won’t get another training opportunity like this until we come back to Northern Strike.”

The IBCT is leaning on the other units who are here to help them accomplish their most important tasks for deployment. They would not be able to do this at home because not all units in Ohio match the requirements needed to fulfill some of the tasks they are doing while at Northern Strike.

“We did a company level air assault the other day,” said Schoger. “It was absolutely incredible to bring a battalion together, then to involve the air side and really have these units exercise their full range of capacity. To integrate our training and what our mission is, with partner forces and special forces, it’s an incredible opportunity.”

The IBCT is a large unit, and parent organization for other smaller units from across the country. With all the units deploying together they are here at Northern Strike to accomplish their mission tasks, as well as learning to work together as a whole. In addition, they are also working with other units who operate similarly to how theirs will operate down range.

“I think Northern Strike is a great opportunity to build partnerships,” said Schoger. “Not only with other nations, but within our own Army, because we don’t get the opportunity to work with special forces a lot, to see how each operates and then integrate together.”

The ability to lean on each other is what Northern Strike is all about, with over 7,400 participants from 19 states and 4 coalition countries in Grayling all working to accomplish similar tasks. Schoger, as a liaison officer, is able to go to the other units to facilitate building trust in one another to get the job done. One of her major duties is working with the 20th Special Forces Group from Birmingham, Ala., one of two special forces groups in the National Guard. This is important to her because she expects to do the same once she is deployed. After a week at Northern Strike 22-2 she is now seeing the benefits of that collaboration.

“This is the first time that we’ve been able to integrate our unit operations with some of the other units, so it’s the first time in a longtime that we’ve participated with 20th SFG,” said Schoger. “For example, today’s helocast we were able to give some of our zodiac boats to this mission, so our cavalry unit provided two zodiacs for this training exercise here today.”

A helocast is an airborne technique in which a helicopter will fly to a maritime insertion point and hover for enough time for the participants to jump out into the water. During Northern Strike the 20th SFG was flown in by a CH-47 operated by the 1-111 General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), Florida National Guard.

The GSAB was participating to fulfill the mission of working together and also to requalify their pilots for the operation. Special Forces need to qualify every two years on helocast. They were not recertifying this time, but practicing to work out any kinks they may need to iron out before they deploy next year. Due to not certifying at this time, it allowed members of the unit, who would not normally get the opportunity, to experience the training. This included some lucky participants from the IBCT like Schoger.

“I really appreciate special forces letting me participate in today’s helocast training, it was phenomenal,” said Schoger. “I’ll probably never get the opportunity in my career to do it again and it was amazing!”

Schoger, a sergeant in a marine patrol unit of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, has vast experience rescuing people who have fallen in the water and need help. This time she was one of the people who needed the help. While she could have swum to shore, the nature of the exercise was not only for military units to work together, but for them to also work with civilian fire departments to help the soldiers out.

“Having them here simulates a real scenario,” said Sergeant Major Joseph Traweek, the operations Sgt. Maj., 1st Battalion 20th SFG. “Today was great because the lake backs into Camp Grayling, aviation is here, the IBCT Calvary unit is here, and we can jointly execute a mission that is beneficial to us all.”

Traweek said his unit does not get to practice this scenario and others like it as often as they would like during a normal training cycle. They are taking advantage of what Grayling has to offer to meet their many training requirements, and to do some of the other, more highly anticipated training.

“It’s an open plate,” said Traweek. “We were able to write the script and do what we wanted to. There’s a lot of training opportunities here. Planning is fast, the days are long, but it’s good. It will make us a better Battalion.”