MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
The CH-53E “Super Stallion” is the largest helicopter in the U.S. military. Boasting three gas-powered turbine engines, the power of the Super Stallion enables it to provide the Corps with multiple support roles such as lifting artillery pieces, moving humvees or transporting troops.
Instead of fulfilling their usual support role, the Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, Marine Aircraft Group recently transported a rare cargo - dolphins.
On July 22, aircrew with HMH-466, also known as the “Wolfpack,” flew four explosive ordnance disposal dolphins to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton for a routine training event.
“Transporting with the Super Stallions is something we haven’t done in a long time,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Douglas R. Cline, the leading petty officer with Marine Mammal Company, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 1. “It has been almost seven years since we’ve done this. “The Navy has been using dolphins for almost 50 years. They provide the Navy with the most reliable and capable mine countermeasure system in the world.”
Sailors and soldiers with the Navy unit take care of the mine-finding dolphins as handlers. A team of handlers accompanied the dolphins during the flight, keeping a watchful eye over the precious cargo. They paid close attention to the animals’ health to react to any negative changes. They sprayed the dolphins with cool water, fed them fish and checked the temperature in the containers.
“When transporting the animals you have to worry about heat, elevation and a number of factors because you are taking them out of their element,” said Cline. “These helicopters make the transportation faster, more expedient and more efficient than by land.”
Constant communication between the pilots, crew chiefs and handlers ensured the safe transport of the animals. The crew chiefs kept constant watch over the passengers and aircraft throughout the flight.
“Keeping the dolphins cool from the heat was a challenge, but most of the work was done by the handlers,” said Staff Sgt. Michael A. Camacho, a crew chief with the Wolfpack. “After we landed, we helped unload the dolphins and ensured the debarking was successful. I’ve helped transport artillery pieces, detainees and vehicles, but never dolphins. This is one more thing to add to our squadron accolades, and something we can support in the future.”
The squadron returned the dolphins to their home at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado at the conclusion of their training more than a week later.
“We had never worked with this unit before and it was a great experience,” said Capt. Nate Goddard, a pilot with the squadron. “It challenged our aircrew to apply their knowledge and experience to a series of decisions and new challenges, but it was a rewarding experience.”