Griffon helicopter crews make history over Kandahar
On January 6, 2009, the crews of two CH-146 Griffon helicopters made history: they flew a group of soldiers to a Forward Operating Base, thus completing the first sorties by Canadian helicopters in a theatre of war. Both helicopters belong to the Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan, part of the Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg) Air Wing.
"We've waited a long time to be here, and it feels really good to finally be adding to the overall mission," said mission commander and pilot Major Trevor Teller of 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Edmonton. "Some of us have only been on the ground for a short time, and to already be flying missions with the Griffon is a huge success for the Wing. There was a heightened sense of anticipation for me, and to have actually flown the first mission in Afghanistan was incredible."
Comprising all the Canadian air assets deployed in the southwest Asia theatre of operations, the JTF-Afg Air Wing stood up at Kandahar Airfield on 6 December 2008. Along with eight Griffons, used for transport and escort tasks, the Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan includes six new CH-147 Chinook D medium- to heavy-lift transports, also flown by Canadian Forces crews, and six Mi-8 medium-lift transports, flown by civilian crews under charter. The Griffon and Chinook helicopters will continue training until they are ready to join the pool of aircraft available to International Security Assistance Force operations across southern Afghanistan.
Captain Curtis Wetyk, also of 408 Squadron, said, "Our senses were definitely tweaked when we were flying over the houses, sand dunes and farmland. I am very proud to be serving with the new Air Wing, and very proud of Canada's contribution to this mission." Capt Wetyk piloted the second Griffon.
"It was just like training; the process was the same - but I was way more vigilant and alert," said door-gunner Corporal Jesse Hall, a Reserve infantry soldier from the Governor General's Foot Guards in Ottawa. "It feels really good to be contributing to the mission here."
In service with the Canadian Forces since 1995, the CH-146 Griffon utility transport tactical helicopter is used at home and abroad for search and rescue, surveillance and reconnaissance, casualty evacuation, and other tactical support tasks. From 2000 to 2005, the Canadian contingent deployed under Operation PALLADIUM with the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia included a detachment of eight Griffons. They have also made significant contributions in many humanitarian relief operations.
"It was a little frightening at first, but the excellent training that we received back home helped a lot," said flight engineer Master-Corporal David Williams, also of 408 Squadron. "The mission was very rewarding, and I am proud to be a member of the Air Wing, and proud to be a part of the contribution that Canada is providing here in Afghanistan."
By Captain Dean Menard - Canadian Armed Forces (Feb 2, 2009)
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