CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
After being delayed by rain and high winds, a small break in the clouds opens, allowing a short window for two CH-53E Super Stallions from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466 to deliver much needed fuel and supplies to 1st Tank Battalion, operating in northern Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 26.
Undeterred by the threat of bad weather, the helicopter crews lift off and land a few hundred feet away from the airfield. Coordinating with Marines from Helicopter Support Team, 1st Marine Logistics Group, the giant Super Stallions each secure a cable to the netting holding the fuel containers. They hook up fuel bladders that carry approximately 2,000 pounds of JP-5 fuel.
Capt. James Everett, a pilot with HMH-466, said using heavy lift helicopters to resupply ground units prevents exposing convoys to attacks or improvised explosive devices.
“We can fly right over areas that are heavily occupied with the threat of IED’s or ambushes,” said Everett, of Donnelly, Idaho. “The safest way to transport a lot of food, fuel or water is by air.”
Everett said in addition to the constant threat of convoys coming under attack, delivering supplies by helicopter is a much quicker option than having convoys deliver them over treacherous terrain.
“With the kind of terrain that’s in Afghanistan, it just makes it easier on everyone to fly supplies instead of putting them on a convoy,” he said.
Once the cables are properly fastened to the cargo netting, the helicopters lift off and fly to their destination to deliver their supplies.
Captain Samuel Jones, a pilot with HMH-466 and native of Macon, Ga., said Marine Aviation exists to support the Ground Combat Element.
“Anytime we combine combat power with heavy equipment, troops and supplies, we are going to accomplish the mission.”
After flying for 20 minutes, the helicopters land and deliver their precious cargo. Marines, already on the ground, secure the fuel while crew chiefs inside the Super Stallions prepare for a hasty departure. They reel up their cables, drag cargo nets inside and take off within a matter of minutes.
Once all gear has been secured and supplies have been unloaded, the helicopters take off and head back to Camp Bastion, ready to take on their next mission of the day.