MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
While the sun slowly set, aircraft circled the colorful sky as they prepared to land on grassy hills and unleash 96 eager warriors into a remote town filled with angry insurgents.
The Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, took to the sky to perform helicopter raid training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Sept. 2.
The training was in support of Marines from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, who will deploy with HMM-163 and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit next year.
“This training has the ‘crawl, walk, run’ focus,” said Capt. Kevin Keene, an AH-1W pilot with HMM-163. “We’re getting all the companies through it, because they have a lot of brand new guys, and we have a lot brand new pilots.”
The raid involved five CH-46E “Sea Knights,” two CH-53E “Super Stallions” and two AH-1W “Super Cobras.”
Although helo raids are not a commonly trained procedure, this is the fourth helo raid exercise HMM-163 has completed in the past two weeks. Helo raid training involves more people and aircraft than most training the squadron performs, according to Capt. Christopher Fosdahl, a CH-46E pilot with HMM-163.
The event occurred during low light conditions, meaning the training was completed during night while the moon was not fully visible, explained Fosdahl. Night flights are more difficult than day flights, because pilots are required to wear goggles, which reduce their field of vision.
“We’re expected to be able to perform these kind of missions,” said Fosdahl. “We have to provide the capability for a precise strike, which gets the job done and exposes the men to the least amount of risk. It’s all part of being the tip of the spear.”
During the event, two waves of aircraft flew 96 Marines to a drop-off point where the Marines conducted military operations on an urban terrain town. The AH-1Ws remained in the area to provide close-air support to the ground Marines.
Close-air support gives the Marines on the ground peace of mind knowing they have the aircraft looking out for them, explained Keene. It also serves as intimidation to the enemy on the ground.
“One of the things that defines a raid is not only putting guys on the ground, but also picking them back up,” said Fosdahl.
The training not only gave the ground and air Marines valuable experience – it also fostered the units’ working relationship, explained Keene. A good relationship between the units will be key to mission accomplishment during their upcoming six-month deployment.
“Overall, our most important mission is to support and protect the MEU,” explained Keene. “If anything pops up, we’re the first responder. It’s all part of being that quick reaction force.”
As the night grew darker and the air became colder, the warriors of HMM-163 and Bravo Company flew out of the hills of Camp Pendleton ready to face the challenges which lay ahead.