Pushing the Limit
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 ROBERT CHAUNCEY
7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
We all know that in a combat environment your acceptable risk level might go up a notch to accomplish the mission and/or save or protect other forces with whom you have been fighting. However, is there a time that you could be doing more harm than good or taking an unnecessary risk while not really accomplishing anything? Sometimes I think so.
On a warm summer day in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the dust had blanketed the sky and reduced visibility. Our mission was to depart Kandahar Air Field (KAF) at 1100 and conduct area reconnaissance and security in the Arghandab River Valley (ARV) till 1600 or until relieved by another scout weapons team (SWT). The weather briefing we received called for a 600-foot ceiling and half-mile visibility. However, as I looked outside, my eyes and the hair standing up on the back of my neck said otherwise. And there was another thought looming over the heads of the crew — the ARV. It was in a stabilizing mode, and as the ground element moved into areas that had not been patrolled, they’d come under heavy gunfire and were taking casualties almost daily.
The crew debated whether to attempt to complete the mission. The command had an aggressive stance, but, for the most part, did the right thing by leaving the go/no-go decision to the crews and the air mission commander. The crew inherently did not want to venture out into the dust cloud, but we thought of the infantry guys. What would happen if we didn’t launch and the ground elements came under attack? We decided to launch, and if someone felt uncomfortable or it became too difficult to accomplish the mission, the SWT would return to KAF.
The first stop would be to test fire weapons, then we’d cross Kandahar city and enter the ARV from the south. There weren’t too many vertical hazards in the city, just one balloon tethered to a 1,000-foot cable. As the crew test fired, they realized visibility was less than a quarter-mile and they could barely see the ground. The mood was uneasy, yet they pressed on to the ARV.
As they traveled across the city, the only thing the SWT wanted to find was the balloon. Well, they found it. Fortunately, they had just enough time to break hard left to avoid the tether. After the near miss, the crew returned to KAF and canceled the mission because of the weather.
A young pilot who had never experienced that much bad weather learned an important lesson that day. Pushing the limit is required at times; however, the risk should remain calculated. The SWT could not see the ground a half-mile to the front, so not much reconnaissance would be accomplished. The effects of striking the wire could have been catastrophic. In the end, it wouldn’t have been necessary. This was filed as a near miss, but the lesson learned was valuable and will never be forgotten by anyone on that SWT crew.