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CNN Saturday Morning News

A Look Inside Black Hawk Surveillance Teams

Aired December 15, 2001 - 08:33   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to give you an inside look now at a very secretive and special kind of soldier. Flying in on the wings of a Black Hawk helicopter, there's a small group of soldiers you'll never see in this war, but their intelligence could help win it. We're talking about the 171st Aviation Regimen and the paratroopers of the long-range surveillance team.

I had the rare opportunity to fly with these men to show you how their mission impacts your desire and their fight for freedom.


PHILLIPS: Right now we're 1,500 feet in the air in a Black Hawk helicopter. As you can see, the reason why this aircraft is so important is it's a support vehicle for the long-range surveillance paratroopers. You can see them coming out of the helicopter, six in, six out. It happens so quickly and the purpose of using this helicopter is to get them into enemy territory so fast and so quickly that no one spots them.

And the purpose of the long-range surveillance team is reconnaissance and surveillance of the bad guys. These guys are waiting for the call to go to Afghanistan any day. Getting into enemy territory is their objective and being the silent warrior, getting the information for special operations command.

Here's a look at how they do it. We went on a night training mission with them. Take a look.

(voice-over): Before combat...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Loyal to my unit.


PHILLIPS: They remember the creed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am a U.S. Army paratrooper.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIERS: I am a U.S. Army paratrooper.

PHILLIPS: In this war...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Takeoff, 1615. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six in, six out.


PHILLIPS: Its troops and the terrain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I accept death before dishonor.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIERS: I accept death before dishonor.

PHILLIPS: And forces in flight that will inevitably win this war against terrorism.

MAJ. BROCK GASTON, U.S. ARMY: We have the most advanced aircraft in the free world and we can use these aircraft to get our personnel, equipment rapidly across the battlefield to whatever our objective is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Operative name is Swift Eagle and the number is...

PHILLIPS: Personnel like these men.

GASTON: About four will be wearing basically mixed uniforms.

PHILLIPS: Who are flying today's training mission.

GASTON: The mission is to conduct insertion and extraction operations in the vicinity of Ringo.

PHILLIPS: Georgia Army National Guardsmen are planning Operation Swift Eagle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Danger areas and reaction drills will be conducted in...

PHILLIPS: In the other hangar, LRS soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our primary means will be Black Hawk. Our secondary means will be U.S. 60 Black Hawk spies mission.

PHILLIPS: The long-range surveillance team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our mission for Company H...

PHILLIPS: Silent soldiers that paradrop into enemy territory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gathering information on enemy activity.

PHILLIPS: Today's mission, surveillance of a high traffic, high threat bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got four different types of night vision...

PHILLIPS: Watching and recording everything the enemy is doing and transporting. We're deep in the Georgia mountains at the Catoosa (ph) training area. LRS soldiers safety check every piece of equipment...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, sir.

PHILLIPS: And initiate movement.

FIRST SGT. MIKE HURNDON, LRS TEAM, U.S. ARMY: The LRS goes in the backyard of the enemy and has to have the discipline and the training to remain right there amongst the enemy and never move.

PHILLIPS: Launching from friendly land is easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 3013 altitude.

PHILLIPS: Crossing the forward line of enemy troops is not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clear, right? We should be clear.

PHILLIPS: These paratroopers must hit their drop zone perfectly. Within minutes, six soldiers in...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Execute, execute, execute.

PHILLIPS: Six soldiers out, jumping into the danger zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drop your bags in. Ramp up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tango one. Tango 2-1, insertion complete. Over.

PHILLIPS: It's sunset at the cache point. These warriors link up, account for each other and equipment and prepare to put eyes on the enemy objective.

STAFF SGT. SHAWN LEWIS, U.S. ARMY: This is about all we've got. You know, we don't have many weapons with us. It's mostly communications gear because we're so far behind enemy lines, typically. So we can't be seen and we can't be heard and we can't let anybody know that we've been here, period.

PHILLIPS: Staff Sergeant Shawn Lewis leads his men with stealth and discipline through concealed paths of approach. Moonlight and instincts will reveal the route to reconnaissance and surveillance. Night vision goggles illuminate a safe scroll to the road.

Now buried within enemy terrain, soldiers conduct SEALS -- stop, look, listen and smell, becoming accustomed to the sights and sounds of the battlefield. LRS soldiers begin building their center of operation. Guilley suits (ph) mask enemy detection as each soldier starts constructing the hide sites, manmade hideouts that will become home for days, as these hidden soldiers wait to confirm or deny enemy action.

And in this training mission, it won't take long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was evidently an American pilot transferred from vehicles to the boat and the boat's then moved upstream along with some arms were transferred from the vehicles to the boats.

PHILLIPS: Via an encrypted transmission with worldwide range, the situation report goes to the U.S. military intelligence command so ground troops can now initiate their battle plan to rescue the downed pilot and destroy the enemy forces.

The long-range surveillance team completes its mission. Black Hawks are signaled. LRS soldiers are extracted from enemy territory, never seen, never heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIERS: I am prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For my team and mission.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIERS: For my team and mission.

PHILLIPS: A mission of training today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anytime, anywhere.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No questions asked.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIERS: No questions asked.

PHILLIPS: A will to fight this war always.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you asked us tomorrow if we wanted to go, everyone would say yes.


PHILLIPS: Now, right after this break, we're going to come back and talk with the commanders of these specialized soldiers that we just introduced you to. You'll meet them personally coming right up.


PHILLIPS: Well, just before the break we introduced you to a specialized group of soldiers within the Georgia Army National Guard, pilots within the 171st Aviation Regimen and the members of the long- range surveillance team.

And now joining me this morning are the commanders of these unique teams of military personnel, Major Brock Gaston and First Sergeant Mike Hurndon.

Good morning, gentlemen.

GASTON: Good morning, Kyra.

HURNDON: Good morning, Kyra. PHILLIPS: Thanks for getting up so early for us once again.

GASTON: We're used to it.


PHILLIPS: After all those days of training. I know, you're used to getting up early.

Well, Major Gaston, let's start with you and just talk about this type of training. You know, you guys gave us incredible access, but this is training that happens all the time whether we're in war or not, correct?

GASTON: That's correct. We always seek an opportunity to try to prepare for our war time mission as well as for our state and homeland defense mission. You know, President Bush told us to be ready and this was a keen opportunity for us to go and do exactly that, to get ready for any type of contingency operations we're called upon.

PHILLIPS: Well, I got to see firsthand how awesome the Black Hawk helicopter is. Let's talk what is so, why it's crucial to have a helicopter like this during war time and its capabilities.

GASTON: Well, it's capable of carrying an infantry squad into combat and it's very versatile, too. We can carry not only personnel but equipment as well and it's also, you know, I have to throw in the plug for our homeland defense mission. It's very versatile in that we can do firefighting operations. We can help in the event of a flood, fire or any type of natural disaster.

So it's not only capable for us to go do our wartime mission but also our homeland defense mission, as well.

PHILLIPS: And you talk about it having the capability to bring soldiers in, soldiers like the long-range surveillance team. First Sergeant Hurndon, why don't we talk about these guys, your guys, and why discipline is so important. This is a different type of soldier. I mean they're not going in to bring out the guns and take out the enemy face on. It's sort of a different type of discipline mission.

HURNDON: That's right, Kyra.

The soldiers all come from an infantry background and they're choosed to come to the long-range surveillance unit. And the mission for the six man long-range surveillance team is to deploy well behind enemy lines up to 150 kilometers and execute their mission at a named area of interest or a target and never be seen or heard and then be extracted to deliver that information to the commander.

PHILLIPS: How do you pick the right soldiers, though? How do you know your guys are going to remain disciplined and not be, have that urge when they feel the enemy come on top of them to turn around and use their weapon?

HURNDON: That's a very good question. There's a lot of soldiers that apply to be long-range surveillance soldiers and we have a very stringent selection process that we have to go through and that's continually ongoing and we continually train and reassess the soldiers. And generally speaking, our soldiers are a more mature soldier than initial infantry soldiers that come into the army. They have experience. Many of them come from Ranger backgrounds, special forces, and, of course, Army airborne units. And we bring these all together and form a very concise and well trained team.

PHILLIPS: But if they had to react, if they were discovered by the bad guy, what would the rules of engagement be then?

HURNDON: Like we all prepare in any military service. We always prepare for contingencies and that is the one thing that we prepare for and train for diligently is if we all are made contact our reaction to that, to safely extract at that time for a turn back to a friendly lines so that we can prepare and come back for an additional mission.

PHILLIPS: And Major Gaston, you guys both are full time, but this is Georgia Army National Guard. So you have a variety of different professionals within, I mean you have amazingly strong soldiers, but also what else do they, what type of other jobs do they have?

GASTON: We have everything from school teachers to bankers to firemen, mortgage brokers, you name it. I mean every vocation that is out there, those are the type of people we attract. A lot of people who've served their time in active duty, gotten out and still wanted to make a contribution join the Army National Guard and hey, we bring them in there and make them part of the team.

PHILLIPS: Don't they ever get tired?

GASTON: Well, you know, we do a lot of stuff that is very demanding. I mean when these citizen soldiers get off of their regular job a lot of times on week nights or weekends, they will come out and train just as hard as you can see in the tape that we just saw and they're giving the effort, you know? And this isn't just going on here in Georgia. There's 54 other states and territories where units are doing the exact same things, preparing for their state and their federal missions.

PHILLIPS: Now, I know the Black Hawk is involved in search and rescue. Long-range surveillance guys, since you are so specialized, could you be used for a search and rescue mission, also?

HURNDON: Sure, that is a possible mission according to our field manual. Our primary mission, of course, is surveillance and reconnaissance. But one of our additional missions could be combat search and rescue because we would be behind enemy lines and in close proximity, perhaps, to where our aviation asset would go down and we would be more than willing to go to the aid of our brethren there on the ground.

PHILLIPS: Well, let's talk about the trust factor. You guys are flying and you guys are going to be jumping into enemy territory. Time is everything. You have one small spot to hit, let's say, in Afghanistan within seconds. So how do you coordinate this so you guys are on the money because if you're off, we could lose?

GASTON: Well, we, it requires detailed planning and briefing and rebriefing and making sure that we understand exactly what our limitations, what our constraints are for the mission. We do everything that we can to ensure that we're going to insert and extract our soldiers in their safely and hopefully without getting anybody injured or, in their case, getting them discovered.

PHILLIPS: And as you're about to jump, you're hanging off the end. You're right there on the edge of the aircraft. What do you, you know how crucial every second is.

HURNDON: Sure. And, Kyra, as the film, I think, clearly showed, we go into an installation phase, mission planning, and often that will last at a minimum of three days. And that's continual rehearsing and planning and also planning for contingencies. In addition, we coordinate very detailed operations with our aviation assets going in as part of the air mission briefing and we go over and we rehash and we actually do brief backs. And that makes sure that every soldier on that six man team is clearly dialed into what is upcoming and can react in case they are separated or if any contingencies arise.

PHILLIPS: When you guys jump, six guys out, what if a guy gets injured? What do you do in the situation like that, in enemy territory and someone can't keep going?

HURNDON: Sure, and that's one of our planning contingencies. One of the things that we possibly could do is we could call back in for an early extraction or it depends, of course, on the situation of the injury. This team may actually move on to its objective and complete its mission and return safely with that injured soldier if possible.

PHILLIPS: Well, I know how tough you guys are. There is no option but to win, isn't that true?

GASTON: That's correct.

HURNDON: That's right.

PHILLIPS: Well, I thank you guys both very much. You gave us incredible access. We appreciate it and enjoyed our time with you.

Major Brock Gaston, for Sergeant Mike Hurndon, thanks, you guys.

GASTON: Thank you, Kyra.

HURNDON: Thanks, Kyra.

GASTON: Appreciate it.

PHILLIPS: All right.