MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), the “SeaElk,” traveled to the desert sands to conduct a helicopter raid exercise April 16.
The three CH-46E “Sea Knight” helicopters and two CH-53E “Super Stallion” helicopters picked up Marines from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and transported them to a simulated combat zone where they completed a live-fire exercise.
The training improved the cohesion between the air combat element and the ground combat element of the 11th MEU. The opportunity not only prepared Marines in a safe environment for their approaching deployment, but also enhanced their communication skills.
The exercise gave the two elements a valuable opportunity to train together in a real-world situation and better understand each other’s capabilities, explained Capt. Joe A. Whitefield, a pilot with the squadron.
Sometimes the helicopters are not always able to do what the GCE would like, explained Whitefield. By flying and working alongside the squadron, the ground element learns that a CH-46E may not be able to land due to weather or terrain. Also, helicopters can only fly so far with the amount of fuel they can carry. So, if their drop-off point is further than a CH-46E can fly, a forward arming and refueling point needs to be established or a C-130 can fly out to refuel the helicopter before it continues to the landing zone.
Understanding these capabilities is useful when planning the logistics for the raids.
Squadrons conduct raids as soft hits or hard hits, explained Whitefield. During a soft hit ground combat Marines are dropped off and hike to their destination, in a hard hit the pilots drop the Marines off in the combat zone.
Another important role throughout the exercise is that of the crew chief.
“The crew chief’s mission while transporting troops is ensuring the safety of the troops so they can get to the fight as soon as possible,” said Cpl. Scott Romeo, a crew chief with the squadron.
During the exercise a helicopter remained close by in case a medical evacuation was needed, added Whitefield.
Exercises like this prepare the SeaElk for their deployment with the 11th MEU in the fall.
“This training is like practicing for sports,” said Capt Timothy B. Williams, the S-5 officer for the squadron. “The more you practice the better you perform.