CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- Marine Corps aviation assets in Afghanistan bring a huge advantage for Afghan national security forces and NATO troops who are constantly ambushed by an enemy that rarely sticks around to fight. So, while the insurgents hide behind their surprise tactics, Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 are bringing a little surprise of their own.
It’s called the UH-1Y Huey. Bell Helicopter named it the “Venom.” Marine pilots and crew fondly call it the “Yankee.” But no matter what you call it, the thought of it alone is striking fear in the enemy.
“A lot of times we’ll get a call for troops in contact,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lee, an HMLA-369 crew chief, “and we’ll scramble out of here, get down to the contact point and just the sound of us coming into the overhead is the fight stopper because the Taliban and insurgents realize that they just lost any illusion of fire superiority when we came on station.”
Outfitted with an M134 minigun, a GAU-17/A .50-caliber machine gun and 2.75-inch rockets, the Huey is rigged for dominance. Its four-blade rotor provides intense power for getting to the fight in a hurry even with the massive firepower attached to it. And some high-tech tools in the cockpit give the pilots an edge, including the capability to downlink with UAVs in the area to see what they can see.
But as with any machinery or weaponry, the Huey is only as strong as the crew using it. Lee and his partner, Sgt. Trevor Cook, another crew chief, work hard to meld as a seamless team.
“We have to learn each others’ tendencies,” said Lee. “You also have to learn the pilots’ tendencies and build the crew coordination concept that it’s one team, one fight inside the helicopter. You have to coordinate everyone’s actions so they come off smoothly without any notice that there are actually four guys flying the helicopter – it seems like one.”
As a Huey of one, the team becomes a lethal weapon system. However, HMLA-369 also serves another critical mission for ANSF and NATO forces – many times acting as eyes in the skies. Teamed up with the AH-1W Cobra on some occasions, Huey Marines roll out at the request of ground forces to scan the area for threats.
No matter what they’re airborne to do, the Huey Marines stay armed and dangerous and they’re proud of the fact that ANSF and NATO forces below know that the mere sound of helicopter blades pounding in the air above signals a sure victory.
“And we just hope we get down there fast enough that we don’t lose another Marine or any coalition forces,” said Lee. “We’re trying to keep them as safe as possible. And if the time comes, we’ll throw it down and hopefully take the heat off the ground guys and make the bad guys wish they had never messed with us.”
“There is no better feeling than protecting your brother,” said Cook. “And that’s exactly what we’re here to do.”
It’s a mission all of the Huey crews take pride in as they take the skies, hoping to quell the enemy attacks before another coalition partner or Afghanistan civilian falls victim to the enemy’s savage attacks.