January 31, 2013 --
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. - Strengthening bonds between America and Japan, Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Marines and Japanese recon and intelligence forces conquered training activities during an exercise called “Iron Fist.”
Exercise Iron Fist is a bilateral training with the Japanese military forces at the Marine Expeditionary Force level from Jan. 22 to Feb. 15 in Southern California.
“As an expeditionary force, (the Marine Corps) needs to be able to insert troops anywhere in the world, making helocasting a viable option to accomplish the mission,” said Capt. Ryan Bankhead, a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 ‘Warhorse,’ 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and a Prescott, Ariz., native.
Helocasting is an airborne insertion technique used by small unit, special operations forces during operations. These small units are flown by helicopter to a maritime insertion point, where the aircraft slows to 5 to 10 knots forward speed with a low altitude allowing the unit to jump out with all of their gear.
“We’re working with the Japanese in this training to compare standard operating procedures with each other,” said 1st Lt. Neal Ferrano, platoon commander with Charlie Co., 1st Recon Marines and a Marietta, Ga., native. “It allows the Marine Corps to share knowledge with its allies and friends overseas. If we didn’t use this type of insertion, we wouldn’t be able to move small force teams into objective areas in a (stealthy) manner and that would give the Marine Corps one less option during a battle.”
During the training, Japanese forces and recon Marines boarded the aircraft with rubber boats to practice “soft ducking,” which involves two Marines jumping out of the aircraft from just above the water while holding onto their boat.
Once in the water, these two Marines take control of the boat and its engine while the remaining Marines jump into the water, explained Ferrano. After the last Marine has boarded the boat, the teams continues toward their objective, which can be as far as 12 nautical miles away.
“This kind of training is a little out of our normal realm of trainings, so it’s pretty exciting,” said Sgt. Ryan Hoffman, a crew chief with the Warhorse and a Circleville, Ohio, native. “As exciting as it is though, you have to be on top of your game, because something could go wrong. You have to pay attention to things you aren’t used to paying attention to, but in the end it makes you a better crew chief and you’re that much more prepared to do these kinds of missions.”
While executing the training Hoffman had to change the way he thinks about his role for this particular mission.
“Normally, (crew chiefs) are in charge in the back of the aircraft,” said Hoffman. “We make all the calls. No matter what the situation is the lead crew chief is going to have the final say. With this kind of training though, we have to work with the cast master, who is in charge of his personnel and when they move – not us. When it comes to the jumpers, we more or less just observe and watch over our side of the mission while he takes care of his.”
For his first time performing this training Hoffman received a surprise just before recon Marines and Japanese were able to jump.
“On our first go the boat flipped,” said Hoffman. “I spoke to some Marines who have done this before, and they said it flips quite often. Other than that, no one was hurt and we accomplished the training and that’s always our ultimate goal.”
The frequency of helocasting training depends on how often a group of recon Marines needs to train for this specific kind of insertion.
Whether as a crew chief performing his first helocasting, a veteran
recon Marine observing or Japanese forces training with an ally no one was harmed and the mission was crushed with an Iron Fist.