Friday morning, Zags and community members alike will all be barred from stepping foot onto Luger Field, except for a select number of individuals.
That is because tomorrow morning from approximately 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. a CH-47 Chinook helicopter will be landing on Luger Field and those on the field will be transported off campus.
These individuals are a part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at Gonzaga University and will be gearing up for a weekend in the wilderness to test and flex the skills they’ve learned this year in a training exercise.
“We have some helicopters coming to take us out to Camp 7 Mile for spring [Field Training Exercise],” said Master Sergeant Damien Thorness. “[FTX] it’s kind of [a] last major training event here at Gonzaga University before we head out to cadet summer training.”
During this time, unauthorized people will not be allowed onto the field but are welcome to watch the landings and take offs.
The National Guard will be providing the aircrafts, yet previous plans included UH-60 Black Hawks and UH-72 Lakotas to transport the cadets.
“The main reason for the merry-go-round of helicopter switches is because the Washington Army National Guard had several last-minute priority missions pop up,” said Maj. Adams in an email. “Thankfully they’ve juggled all of their assets around to accommodate us so we still get to conduct the helicopter training.”
Despite some turbulence in the planning process, the cadets will now be riding in a Chinook.
“It’s a cool way for us to publicize our program through this big event, with a helicopter showing up,” said ROTC senior cadet and Public Affairs Officer Evan Goffena.
According to Major Edward Adams the CH-47 Chinook is classified as a cargo helicopter, which means it can transport vehicles, large artillery pieces and lots of soldiers. The helicopter holds up to 30 passengers which means it will make approximately two round trip excursions to Camp 7 Mile in order to get all the cadets and cadre to the area where they will be conducting their FTX.
“It’s pretty neat they’re getting their hands on actual real-life working army vehicles,” Master Sgt. Thorness said.
Last year, a Chinook helicopter also made an appearance on campus for the same reason, to transport cadets to their spring FTX.
Prior to last year’s appearance, GU hadn’t seen an army helicopter on campus for several years.
“Helicopters came here many moons ago, probably about 10 years ago was the last time we had, on a regular basis, helicopters,” Maj. Adams said.
According to Maj. Adams mixing a major private entity like GU with a major public entity like the army can be complicated, which is a possible reason as to why there was a lack of helicopters until last year.
“Last year, one of our [Noncommissioned Officers] said I’m going to figure this out, and figured it out, and sort of built a model on which we can very easily do this in the future,” he said “[Now] we already have the preformulated agreements between the army and the university, the Washington National Guard and everybody involved.”
In order to get the helicopter approved to come to campus, ROTC worked directly with the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Risk Management.
According to the document “Risk Management Guidelines and Procedures Manual: Helicopter Guidelines,” provided to The Bulletin by Safety Programs Manager Larry Hagel, the steps in which it takes to get a helicopter approved to land on campus involves coordinating with multiple departments. Departments like Office of the Academic Vice President, Campus Security and Public Safety, Plant Services and Athletics.
The office of the Academic Vice President needs to be consulted “each time a schedule helicopter landing is proposed to ensure that the academic environment is not adversely affected,” the document states.
Maj. Adams said Luger Field has been deemed the only place for a safe landing and because there are events happening this weekend in relation to GEL weekend, the cadets will not be returning from FTX on a Chinook.
As for FTX, the cadets will be conducting several missions throughout their weekend at Camp 7 Mile. The missions and procedure for the weekend were largely planned by the senior class of cadets.
“[FTX] is a perfect opportunity for my class to go through the whole planning process of an event like this, which is something we’ll have to do going forward in our army careers, so it’s kind of a way for us to test the waters before there’s real-world consequences to us screwing up,” Goffena said. “What this is mimicking is a deployment, almost. We’re getting deployed to ‘Atropia,’ which is our fictional land of where the army does their mock deployments.”
Although not all ROTC cadets will commission into combat or artillery fields, FTX provides an opportunity for the cadre to evaluate their leadership skills.
“Anything you can do in the civilian world, you can do in the army. And we’ll commission people to do it from here,” Maj. Adams said. “[FTX] provides a simple way for us to be able to assess their ability to lead.”
In the future, the Zag community can also expect to see more annual use of army helicopters as Maj. Adams intends the Bulldog Battalion to continue this practice.
“When you think the army, you think tanks, helicopters, artillery pieces, things like that. So this is an opportunity to expose one of those cool toys the army has to our cadets,” he said. “[And] any time you have the army interacting with local, civilian populations it’s good thing because the American taxpayer gets to see what they’re paying for, who the army is and what kind of people they are.”