The Royal Canadian Air Force's 450th Tactical Helicopter Squadron (THS) and the 3rd Battalion of the Canadian Army's Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) spent nearly a month at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to fully integrate with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team 82nd Airborne and the 3-82 General Support Aviation Battalion in air assault, air movements, sling load and airborne operations exercises.
The training exercises highlighted the ability of US and Canadian aviation forces to work seamlessly together and in support of US and Canadian ground units. It also marked the first time a Canadian Chinook squadron has operated with the US Army.
US pilots were impressed with the Canadian Chinooks' performance and the Canadians were excited to fly them outside of the country and in a range as big as Fort Bragg.
The Canadian aircraft also has a different electrical system that can run the entire aircraft off of the generator, according to Maj. Rob Tyler, of the 450th THS. The helicopters are also equipped with four multichannel radios, which worked seamlessly with the US communications systems, he said.
But the exercises represented more than just a chance to put the Canadian Chinooks to the test.
The following night the Canadian and US forces teamed up for a company air assault mission that once again included the CH-147s and UH-60s as well as US AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
"They flew as a complete flight under night vision goggles, the most difficult mode of flight, conducted at less than 200 feet above ground level," Maj. Crispin Burke, battalion operations officer with the 3-82 General Support Aviation Battalion, told Defense News.
"The flight was seamless, as if the Canadians were just one of our own aircraft," Burke said. "Mixed multiship formations are difficult, especially under NVGs and especially with different units, but it all happened without incident."
The Canadians also got a healthy dose of southern coastal hurricane season weather and were unable to conduct airborne operations for nearly a week. But the 3rd RCR's command post remained where it was set up the first night of operations with tents pitched along the treeline of a muddy field.
"Our aim here is to develop some interoperability with the 82nd Airborne and so we've attached ourselves to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team," Canadian Maj. Tim Plaunt, the deputy commanding officer of the 3rd RCR, sporting full camouflage face paint, told Defense News inside a rain-soaked tent. "What we want to do is reinforce that interoperability that we have at the headquarters level so that when we do add troops in the future that it reduces the friction between headquarters of different nations.
"The US Army really provides an excellent opportunity for us to test our battalion headquarters in a much bigger structure," he said. "The American Army here is a much bigger organization so it comes with both different challenges and assets that we typically don't see at home."
For example, the 82nd Airborne has "the gold book" that provides standard operating procedures and planning for airborne operations, and therefore the 3rd RCR took that document and adjusted it for the way it does business so US and Canadian forces "can speak the same language" at the tactical level, Plaunt said.
There's also a technical part to it, Plaunt said, "where our signalers, where our communications experts are learning what equipment works, what equipment doesn't work, what we need to bring next time to facilitate better communication or more effective communication."
He added that the US Army is rolling in newer equipment now with "stuff that we hadn't been exposed to in the past, so we are seeing it for the first time."
"We are very similar," Tyler said. "We share a lot of doctrine, a lot of our [tactics, techniques and procedures] are very similar as well, so coming down here just highlights the fact that working together is much easier than you'd think."
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.