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An UH-1 "Huey" with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, takes off during Exercise Steel Knight at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms Oct. 27.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Alexandra M. Harris

HMLA-469 takes flight during Steel Knight’s FINEX

26 Oct 2009 | Lance Cpl. Alexandra M. Harris

Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 took flight to provide air support for the final phase of Exercise Steel Knight, here Oct. 26.

The final exercise marked the end of Steel Knight, an 11-day training evolution that enabled the new squadron to prepare for situations like medical evacuations, armed reconnaissance, convoy escort and close air support missions.

FINEX involved the UH-1N “Huey” and AH-1 W “Super Cobra” helicopters, which maintenance and support Marines prepared  before the flight.

“It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of planning,” said Maj. Bryant Budde, the assistant maintenance officer of HMLA-469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force. “We brief everything we do so we know what our game plan is.”

The exercise supported the ground troops on the mountainous ranges of Twentynine Palms. It simulated an attack on troops in hostile territory.

“The terrain out here is much more realistic to what the guys are being deployed to in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said 1st Lt. Michael Quin, a helicopter pilot with HMLA-469. “It’s mountainous and hot.”

The helicopters took off in the morning from the expeditionary air field at   Camp Wilson.

They made a brief stop at the combat aircraft loading area to arm all live weapons. The Marines operated several weapons aboard the helicopters including a .50-caliber machine gun and a 7.62-milimeter Gatling gun.

Once the helicopters were ready to go, the crews left for the mountains to position themselves to attack several targets.

“The training is more complicated than how we’ve been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Budde. “It’s for a more technically advanced enemy than what we’re facing now.”

After circling several times, the crews received word to move in closer to the location. However, once the crews reached the target area they couldn’t provide air support because the ground troops were too close to the targets for the helicopters to fire.

Although the crews did not get to fire their weapons, their training experience allowed them to practice operating aircraft, communicating with ground troops and prepare for hostile missions.

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3rd Marine Aircraft Wing