PACIFIC OCEAN --
It takes a brave individual to walk to the open door of a CH-53E “Super Stallion,” look out into the swirling blue ocean below, and jump.
It takes a crew of highly-trained professionals to then drop a rope to the Marines in the water and carry them back to land safely and tactically, which is exactly what the pilots and crew chiefs of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 “Warhorses” did at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Nov. 1.
This intense training was not just for the Marines of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, but also for the aviators and crew chiefs onboard who had never performed this kind of operation.
Lance Cpl. Ryan Hlivka, a crew chief with HMH-465, took charge in the back of the helicopter as the only crew chief onboard who had overseen helocasting - jumping from an aircraft into the water - and wet special patrol insertion/extraction training - pulling Marines out of the water with a rope.
Wet-SPIE training and helocasting missions also present special challenges for the aviators, who fly these missions as part of their required training.
“When you’re 10 feet off the water, you get visual illusions because of the sea spray. You feel like you’re drifting,” explained Capt. Derek Cook, a CH-53E pilot with HMH-465. He added that wet-SPIE is especially difficult because the pilots must maintain a careful balance of altitude, rotor speed and stability so the Marines below can be safely pulled out of the water.
Cook explained that this training is important, although wet-SPIE and helocasting are not likely necessary in Afghanistan, where they are slated to deploy next.
“It’s just like [SPIE exercises] in the desert, the way you’re scanning [the horizon to maintain stability]. It’s something to practice,” he said.
For the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion Marines who use these tactics for amphibious reconnaissance, it’s critical training for the upcoming 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployment, where they may need to employ these skills.
“The helocast [and wet-SPIE] is just another way for us to get to work,” said Staff Sgt. Bo Irving, an assistant operations chief with Alpha Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. “They were just honing their skills.”
Like any training mission, Cook saw aspects that could improve.
“One thing our crew is going to work on is communication. Through communication [the crew chiefs] increase our situational awareness. That’s something we’re always striving to better ourselves with,” said Cook.
The Warhorses use unique training opportunities like this to hone their own skills as pilots and crew chiefs, while preparing to deploy again in January.