January 30, 2014 Updated: January 30, 2014 at 2:36 pm
The Army is learning to fly.
Long tied to missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops at Fort Carson are learning a way to fight that will have them winging their way to battle against enemies. The philosophy isn't new; airborne units practiced rapid deployments throughout the Cold War.
But the Fort Carson soldiers are bringing a bit of luggage - 72-ton M-1 Abrams tanks.
"It's about the expeditionary mindset," said Lt. Col. Jeremy Wilson, who commands the 3rd Brigade Combat Team's 1st Battalion of the 68th Armored Regiment.
Wilson's battalion is part of a "Global Response Force" and has troops ready to fly out of the Colorado Springs Airport on short notice.
The soldiers would join troops from the 82nd Airborne Division if called into battle.
"We're there if they need armor," said the battalion's top enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. David Glenn.
The battalion keeps a platoon of two tanks and two Bradley Fighting Vehicles on alert at the airport's Army terminal.
That's the down payment on a company of tanks and infantry vehicles the battalion is prepared to send to war on short notice.
It's part of an Army initiative that is designed to make the force more flexible and save cash. With the Army pulling most of its soldiers out of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, troops must be ready to quickly head to war.
Fort Carson soldiers demonstrated the techniques they'll need for this role in a training exercise at the airport in January.
The Air Force flew a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., for the event, and soldiers practiced loading vehicles on the transport.
Units from across Fort Carson joined in. The 4th Combat Aviation Brigade sent helicopters and maintenance crews to practice loading aircraft.
The Globemasters can take off with more than 80 tons of cargo, but the bulky Black Hawks of the aviation brigade are a tricky fit. The transport can hold three utility helicopters, if they are correctly loaded.
For tanks, the equation is simple: One.
While loading a tank is a comparatively easy exercise, strapping it down and making sure to include everything the tank will need in combat is not simple.
"This is great training," Wilson said.
Before 9/11, it was also relatively common training as the military prepared to ship out for future wars.
But that skill and others atrophied in more than a decade of battling counterinsurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. In those wars, soldiers boarded charter flights to the battlefield and fought with trucks and other equipment that had been overseas for years.
Training for tank-on-tank battles and hasty deployments nearly disappeared as the military focused on the present rather than the future.
But with the war in Iraq over and the American role in the war in Afghanistan set to end Dec. 31, the future is now for troops.
"Some of those skills may have atrophied," Glenn said. "But they are coming back quickly."