Soldiers of 41st Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), conduct a helocast training exercise Sept. 14 in the Black River Bay near Sackets Harbor, New York. Soldiers of B Company, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, provided air support for the mission. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Paige Behringer)
Commando engineers helocast into Lake Ontario
Maj. Angel Tomko
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 14, 2018) – There was a calm over the Black River Bay in Sackets Harbor, New York, on Sept. 14 as “Commando” Soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), prepared for a training event unlike any other they have experienced at Fort Drum.
These 41st Engineer Battalion “Mountain Sappers” rolled up their pant legs and sleeves, put on life vests and waited to board a CH-47D Chinook helicopter.
Next to them, other Soldiers were parking and setting up military vehicles that would soon become the hub for hundreds of local children to climb on and explore – equipment like the M777 Howitzer, a medium tactical vehicle with a remote-controlled weapons system and remote-controlled mine-detecting equipment called “battle-bots” by children and Soldiers alike.
“This day is all about 41st Engineer Battalion providing some realistic training to our Soldiers that they might not normally get and connecting with our community while doing it,” said Lt. Col. Jim Beaulieu, battalion commander.
The helicopter landed to pick up the Soldiers and then circled around, conducting a pre-designated flight pattern. Sackets Harbor community members and Commando Soldiers watched as the Chinook slowed to a speed of 10 knots and Mountain Sappers jumped from the helicopter at just over 10 feet into the bay below.
This is a technique called helocasting, which, in the Army, is typically an engineer task practiced during the U.S. Army Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
“Helocasting is an effective means of inserting combat reconnaissance assets,” said 1st Lt. Jacob Wilson, a combat engineer with the battalion. “Engineers use helocasting to collect information on waterways or beaches in or to prepare obstacle clearance, wet-gap crossings or other amphibious operations.”
Although Soldiers of 41st Engineer Battalion and pilots of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade made the training look easy, weeks of preparation went into the exercise to make it a success.
“We started planning for this about three months ago, and throughout the course of those months, Soldiers went through several iterations of water training and jumping from dive boards to prepare them for today,” Beaulieu said.
Molly Reilly, mayor of Sackets Harbor, had been involved in planning this community event since its inception.
While the helocast was going on, students from local schools around the North Country area were dropped off to watch the training and engage with the 2nd BCT Soldiers.
Other agencies represented for the day included the U.S. Coast Guard and the Sackets Harbor Police, Emergency Medical Services, and Fire Department.
Additionally, down the street, other Soldiers from 41st Engineer Battalion donned civilian clothing and picked up tools to clean up the local military cemetery.
“The Soldiers and Families of the 10th Mountain Division are excellent neighbors,” Reilly said. “The helocast training and cemetery cleanup showed how they continue to be excellent community partners. From planning to execution of the event, every member of the battalion proved their professionalism.”
Sprucing up the cemetery involved lawn and flower maintenance and cleaning headstones that had deteriorated over time. This project was taken on together with the local American Legion post.
“There are so many Soldiers from different units from the 1800s to early 1900s,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Owen, a combat engineer with the battalion. “We are here today to honor their memory by cleaning up the area which preserves them.”
This multifaceted day was a way for members of the local community to get to know Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade and Fort Drum as a whole, but ultimately provide training to the Soldiers that others might never get to experience.
“As a unit, we have to maintain a heightened state of readiness so we can deploy anytime or anywhere the Army calls us to go,” Beaulieu said. “Today’s training was about finding innovative ways to do that, and it would not have been possible without the deep connections we have with our community partners.”