MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Rolling emerald-green hills sit silently covering the outskirts of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. As the sun breaks through the clouds, the shadow of a CH-53E “Super Stallion,” appears on the hillside. Soon the silence is shattered by the thunderous roar of the aircraft as it lands on the hilltop.
This was the scene Feb. 24, as Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar’s Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462, also known as the “Heavy Haulers,” participated in a troop insertion exercise at Camp Pendleton.
Marines from the 1st Marine Division poured out the back of the Super Stallion and set up a 360-degree security perimeter around the aircraft, then hastily moved out, vanishing into the tall grass.
The Super Stallion soon disappeared behind the rolling hills.
The squadron coordinated the exercise with Camp Pendleton’s Advanced Infantry Unit Leaders Course, explained Staff Sgt. Jeremy Barone, a course instructor.
The mission for HMH-462 was to pick up infantrymen from Camp Pendleton, and drop them at various landing zones so that they could carry out their mission, explained Capt. Joseph Montagna, a CH-53E pilot for HMH-462.
“When we get to go out and work with the infantry, that’s the best training we can get,” said Montagna. “We can fly around all day pretending to pick up troops, but when the coordination actually has to happen, that’s good training.”
Not only do the pilots and aircrew need the training, but also the infantrymen.
“It’s good for the younger infantrymen to experience this,” explained Sgt. Valgene Bauer, an aerial observer for HMH-462. “A lot of them have never been on a helicopter before.”
Along with the Marines loading and unloading, the helicopter practiced in-flight turf training. During turf training, the CH-53E’s get down into the terrain and use the hills to mask their positions at varying altitudes.
However, this was not the biggest challenge the pilots faced.
Planning can be one of the more challenging aspects of the exercise, explained Montagna.
“If you thought about everything that could happen during the flight – when it does happen you will have planned for it and know how to react,” he said.
There is a lot of work that goes into each mission, explained Bauer.
“There are a lot of moving pieces that go along with a flight,” said Bauer. “You can’t really pick one specific challenge. Every piece depends on another.”
“It’s not just us,” said Montagna. “We could plan a month for an hour long flight, then go downstairs and if the aircraft is not prepped then we are behind our timeline. It’s really an entire squadron effort to get even the smallest of flights off the ground.”