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Profiles Saving Lives in Afghanistan
Army Pilot Commands Missions in Support
of Operation Enduring Freedom VI


Army officer, scout platoon leader and pilot Brian Hummel ’01 stands by his
AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter in Afghanistan.

The calls come in all day. Friendly units are in contact with Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. They request “close air support.” Intelligence reports there is a platoon of infantry soldiers engaged by approximately 30 Taliban fighters. The soldiers are trapped and need assistance fast.

They are completely surrounded and already have one injured soldier. The Apache crew arrives on station and begins to build situational awareness. Within minutes they identify all known friendly locations and fighting positions; then they engage.

They suppress and destroy enemy fighters with 30 mm and 2.75-inch rockets. The enemy fights back, firing at the crew’s aircraft with rocket propelled grenades, surface to air missiles, and a barrage of small arms fire.

The friendly forces begin to advance. The crew covers their movement to the higher ground, and the enemy begins to retreat. The focus now becomes the wounded soldier…

This is a typical day on Quick Reactionary Force (QRF) in Afghanistan for Brian Hummel ’01, an Army officer, scout platoon leader (first platoon) and pilot. Although he calls it a “mock mission,” it is based on a real QRF mission he flew as air mission commander of the flight.

Commanding the flight during missions, he says, is “by far the highlight of being an officer in Army aviation and has the most payoffs.” As air mission commander of an AH-64D Longbow Troop deployed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom VI, Hummel, 26, manages all phases of the operation: planning, preparation, execution and recovery.

During the planning phase, he receives the latest information on weather conditions, and enemy and friendly situations. “Air support,” or close combat attacks, are provided during the execution phase, as well as security, reconnaissance and several other types of support to the battlefield.

While the execution phase involves supporting the ground and air convoys (friendly elements) with firepower when they come in contact with enemy forces, such “close air support” is not conducted on every mission. In fact, says Hummel, the presence of the Apache and its crews alone stops the enemy from attacking. “The enemy thinks the Apache was sent straight from the devil,” he says.

Finally, during the recovery phase, he and his troop conduct after-action reviews and begin planning for their next mission.

Flights are long, lasting anywhere from three to eight hours. “We fly both day and night and my schedule changes reflecting what mission cycle I am on,” Hummel says. “We try to abide by a routine but it only lasts for two weeks, and then we reverse out to a new shift.”

But no matter how many responsibilities Hummel has as first platoon leader, operations officer, air mission commander and pilot, he says he enjoys his job. “I never thought I would end up where I am today, but I know now, through experience, I would never give any of it back.”

Although he has a job he enjoys, Hummel says there are some cons to being an officer in the Army.

“We work long hours and can’t really adhere to a strict duty timeline. Training is intense, especially with our current situation in both wars. Most of my soldiers fought in Iraq, came home for one year and are back at war again in Afghanistan.”

In addition, Hummel says being in an Army at war can be very hard on family life. “We train hard in garrison in order to be successful during our deployment. Then we deploy away from our families for a year.” There are only three types of soldiers today, he says: those at war, those going to war and those just returning from war.

Hummel joined the Army during his sophomore year at Albright. “I was always interested in the Army so I decided to try ROTC,” he says. But since Albright didn’t offer the program, he joined Lehigh University’s ROTC, and completed his officer training the summer after graduating from Albright.

“I always knew I wanted to fly so I requested the aviation branch out of school,” Hummel says. He attended the Army’s initial entry rotary wing course at Fort Rucker, Ala. “The course was a year long. I graduated second in my class and chose to fly the AH-64D Apache Longbow,” he says.

As scout platoon leader of the first platoon, Hummel is responsible for the leadership, training, professional development, discipline, morale and welfare for one commissioned officer, eight warrant officers and 10 enlisted soldiers and their families. In addition, he is accountable for the maintenance, technical and tactical employment of four AH-64D Longbow attack helicopters.

“My primary responsibility is to train and lead my platoon in combat, focusing on aviation, maintenance, proficiency training and combat mission readiness in a hostile environment, he says. “On top of all this, I serve as a fully functional, technically and tactically proficient, dual seat AH-64D pilot, capable of employing the AH-64D in all flight conditions.”

But during deployment, Hummel has different duties as operations officer, such as overseeing QRF and commanding flights during missions.

“I manage a very demanding and ever changing flight schedule based around supporting the ground units,” Hummel says. “It’s very fluid and changes often and rapidly. It is essential to our day-to-day operations and is the backbone of our mission here in Afghanistan.”

Hummel, a chemistry and sociology major, says he honed his leadership skills at Albright. “It was extremely challenging and taught me my first lessons in task prioritization and time management,” he says.

Ultimately, though, it was his interest in the Army and passion for flying that drew Hummel to his chosen career. “I never saw myself as a ‘suit and tie’ kind of person,” he says. “I’m the type of person who gets bored easily and thrives on different challenges to keep me going.

Most rewarding, is knowing you have saved soldiers’ lives.

… The Ground Commander calls for an urgent medevac. The Apache crew relays back to their headquarters and they launch the medevac helicopter, a Blackhawk. They arrive on station in less than 30 minutes accompanied with two CH-47 Chinook helicopters to exfiltrate the rest of the platoon.

The medevac lands, evacs the wounded soldier and heads to the nearest hospital. The Chinooks are next; one at a time they land and exfill as many infantry soldiers as they can. Lift one is up and out, lift two is in. They load up, and they are up and out too.

Finally, the crew is landing Zone Clear; all helicopters are airborne and are heading back to Kandahar.

– Joshua R. Grandy ’06


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