The End State
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Most pilots who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan have experienced moving personnel and equipment from one forward operating base to another. Sometimes, the movement might be an entire task force, while others it’s just a small expeditionary package with limited personnel and equipment. Regardless of the size of the movement, there is always a mission statement included with that particular operation that includes a defined purpose, key tasks to be accomplished and the end state. It is important to accomplish not only all of the key tasks, but to also achieve the desired end state. That’s where my story comes in.
It was a nice, clear day in Afghanistan — perfect for flying. Aircrews stationed at Kandahar had pre-positioned to Herat in preparation for a movement of an expeditionary force to support customers located in Qala-e-Naw. The purpose of the mission was to provide medevac coverage and close-air support to a ground assault force (GAF) operating in the area. One of the primary key tasks was to successfully reposition medevac crews to facilitate maintaining the golden hour throughout the duration of the operation.
The movement to Qala-e-Naw began about mid-morning as the UH-60 crews took off with the medevac crews in tow. The AH-64 crews departed roughly 10 minutes later. There were no issues en route during the fairly short flight through mountainous terrain.
As expected, the UH-60 crews were the first to arrive at the airfield, which was relatively abandoned and looked like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. The airfield was surrounded by mountains and hills and filled with cave-like structures that ascended the landscape in a tiered fashion. On approach to landing, local civilians could be seen riding motorbikes and guiding livestock across the end of the runway.
The aircrews approached the airfield with caution, and the UH-60 medevac chase crews parked off the left side of the runway, parallel to the main parking apron that was surrounded by T-barriers on all sides. There was a guard tower just inside the parking apron seated against the T-barriers closest to the UH-60 crews. The medevac crews used the taxiway leading into the apron and proceeded with parking.
Shortly afterward, the three AH-64 crews were seen approaching the runway. I watched them land and use the same procedure for taxiing as the medevac crews. As I moored my aircraft, I heard a loud suction noise. I turned around to see a cloud of dust expanding upward in the vicinity of the guard tower. I assumed one of the Apaches had ingested some foreign object debris (FOD), until it was followed by a loud bang. Pieces of various-sized metal then began to rain down on the aircrews located inside and outside the parking apron. Several of us ran toward the parking area, unsure what we would find.
When the dust settled, the full impact of what happened set in. As the third Apache taxied to parking, its main rotor system struck the guard tower. The initial impact caused the Apache to pivot around the tower and then strike the opposite side. This rotation culminated with the tail rotor grinding itself to pieces against a T-barrier.
The guards in the tower were bewildered to say the least, but they were uninjured. The Apache crew was also able to walk away from the incident safely. One of the other Apaches sustained damage from the shrapnel, and a crew chief on the medevac crew was grazed on his arm by some flying metal. The end result was the mishap Apache being airlifted out of the area via a CH-47 and returned to Herat.
It is unfair to speculate as to what went on within the mishap aircraft’s cockpit, but it’s safe to say this mission wasn’t successful. One of the Apaches was now non-mission capable and the GAF had no spare rotary fires platform. This goes to show that the mission is not over simply because the aircraft have landed. The task force had set out on one mission and created a new one. The end state was never met.