CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- "TIC, TIC, TIC" is the radio call that commands Marines to sprint to waiting aircraft on the flightline for an immediate takeoff. It can happen at any time of day, and two attack helicopters from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 are always ready for tasking when the call is received.
The "Gunfighters" of HMLA-369, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), know when the troops in contact, or TIC, call is made there are Marines or other coalition forces on the ground in need of their assistance.
The two aircraft platforms, a UH-1Y Huey and AH-1W Cobra, are used as medical evacuation escorts and provide overhead suppressive fire for troops on the ground.
There are always two crews designated for TIC response, one for each aircraft. The crews perform their normal duties, but are always listening for the radio call or for the alarm played over a loud speaker at the squadron, explained Capt. Noah Gould, a Gunfighters Cobra pilot.
"When a TIC goes off, that’s when we need to get out as fast as we can," said Cpl. Brandon Worley, a Huey crew chief, while referring to the sound of the alarm.
Marines from each shop immediately run out to the aircraft to assist the aircrew if they need any help. By the time the pilots reach the helicopters, they are ready to be started.
TIC planes are prepared differently from other aircraft because they need to be starting on short notice. The aircraft only have the tail rotor tie-downs still on the plane. The tie-down keeps the tail rotor and main rotor head from spinning freely in the breeze. Other pieces such as the intake pillows, are already removed.
Once the aircraft are prepped, pilots complete their final checks and start the engines. Ordnance Marines standby to arm the aircrafts’ weapons systems just before pilots taxi the aircraft to the runway.
"We get launch authority from the [Tactical Air Command Center], but we are preparing for launch while waiting for that authorization," said Gould, originally from Cass City, Mich. "We are typically in the air and overhead within a half an hour of receiving the request."
The TACC determines who to send depending on location of the call and what air assets are near the call location, explained Capt. Russell Myers, the 3rd MAW (Fwd) rotary wing tasker.
"I love supporting the [ground] Marines," Gould said. "Typically if something is immediate, you know there are guys on the ground getting shot at and they’ll request air to get us out there because they’ve got the bad guys and they want us to come kill them.
"Supporting them in that way is why we’re here. It’s very fulfilling to do it, but there is always the thought in the back of your mind that something could be going wrong. Either way, we are going overhead to help and that is a good thing. I look at it as one more opportunity to help the guys on the ground."
Though responding to a TIC can signal an changing situation on the battlefield, it’s what the Gunfighters train to do.
"I trained for three years before I actually got to shoot," said Worley, originally from Warner Robins, Ga. "This is what [the training] all added up to, supporting the ground troops. It’s a good feeling when you hear them say ‘yeah we’re not getting shot at anymore, we really appreciate it.’ That’s why we do our job."
The Marines of HMLA-369 will continue to sprint to the flightline at the first sound of the alarm. As long as Marines are fighting on the ground and for as long as they are here, the Gunfighters have vowed to always be ready to respond with aircraft support for coalition and Afghan forces, always running to the sound of their guns.