CAMP BASTIAN, Afghanistan -- Marines on their way to Pakistan began arriving here Aug. 22 for a brief pit stop to prepare their helicopters for humanitarian relief missions.
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, will spend the next several days preparing four CH-53E Super Stallions for future missions in Pakistan with assistance from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).
The 3rd MAW (Fwd) Marines spent about a week establishing an expeditionary maintenance facility for the MEU detachment to use while here. The 3rd MAW (Fwd) will also provide support to the detachment as the Marines work to build up their disassembled aircraft.
"[We] established the ground work, set up climate-controlled tents and established electrical power to sustain the MEU until they leave here," said Capt. Pollard Ham, the 3rd MAW (Fwd) logistics operations officer.
It is time-sensitive for the detachment to get to Pakistan, according to Capt. David Bailey, a CH-53E pilot with VMM-266 (Rein). He said waiting for the MEU to leave port would have taken a few extra weeks.
Before VMM-266 (Rein) could begin preparing for their mission in Pakistan, they needed help from the Marines of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, 3rd MAW (Fwd), to unload the first of four aircraft.
The 3rd MAW (Fwd) logistics Marines were on hand to ensure the process ran smoothly.
"[We] supervised the off-load of the C-17," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Louis Seals, the 3rd MAW (Fwd) mobility officer. "We are the higher headquarters oversight for any strategic mobility airlift that comes into Camp Bastion for 3rd MAW (Fwd)."
The Marines worked together to slowly push the aircraft out of an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane, based out of Charleston, S.C., which picked the helicopter up from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., before bringing it here. Even though the C-17 is one of the biggest cargo planes in the U.S. military, the Super Stallion had to be removed at just the right angles in order to emerge unscathed. Two Marines sat on top of the CH-53E to monitor the clearance of the top of the helicopter’s tail, which was less than a foot from the cargo door while others monitored the bottom of the tail as it came within inches of the ground.
VMM-266 (Rein) was grateful for the aid they received from all the Marines already on the ground.
"It was great to have their help," Bailey said. "It made the off-load easy. Our logistical support is on its way, so [3rd MAW (Fwd)] provided that for us."
HMH-361 provided a tow tractor along with the extra Marines to pull the aircraft.
"It is always good to have someone who can help out," said Gunnery Sgt. Bryan Cox, a crew chief with HMH-361, who aided with the aircraft. "We provided the nitrogen servicing for the landing gear struts that were needed to get the aircraft out of the C-17. We provided the tug-and-tow crew to reposition the aircraft away from the tail of the C-17."
It’s unclear how long the MEU Marines will be in Afghanistan reassembling their aircraft, but 3rd MAW (Fwd) is prepared to host them as long as necessary to ensure their four helos are aptly prepared to bring Pakistan’s next wave of humanitarian support.