Photo Information

Sgts. Matthew Burgett and Matthew Cummings, both UH-1Y "Huey" helicopter crew chiefs with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, stand in front of one of the squadron's UH-1Y "Huey" helicopters at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Dec. 8. Both Marines recently returned to Southern California after a seven and one half month deployment to Afghanistan.

Photo by Cpl. Alexandra M. Harris

'Back in the saddle': Marines return from Afghanistan

16 Dec 2010 | Cpl. Alexandra M. Harris

Marines with Marine Light Attack Squadron 369 recently returned to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and began their 'back in the saddle’ training after a seven and a half month deployment to Afghanistan.

The squadron’s training will allow the Marines to adjust to flying in Southern California, and prepare them for their next deployment to Afghanistan in October 2011.

HMLA-369 Marines deployed to Camp Leatherneck where they supported units in the Hemland Province. Their support included troop inserts, medical evacuations, emergency resuppling, transporting Marines, ammunition, food and water, and providing close air support to ground units.

“During one flight I was on, [ground Marines] had been taking machine gun fire and were pinned down in a compound,” said Sgt. Matthew Cummings, a UH-1Y “Huey” helicopter crew chief with HMLA-369. “Within minutes of us getting there we allowed them to walk out. 20 minutes later, they were like ‘hey thanks.’ While we were overhead, it was like nobody was going to mess with them.”

The 1st Reconnaissance commanding officer actually came and thanked HMLA-369 Marines for providing close air support to his Marines another time, said Sgt. Matthew Burgett, a Huey crew chief with HMLA-369.

“I was working with [3rd Battalion, 12th Regiment] once and there was a platoon that was pinned down by the Taliban and was unable to maneuver,” said Capt. Jonathon Geisler, an AH-1W “Cobra” helicopter pilot with HMLA-369. “I was able to suppress fire from the enemy. Our [operations officer] actually ran into a gunnery sergeant whose life was saved that day.”

Now the Marines have to adjust to flying in heavy air traffic, different altitudes and prepare new Marines for a different environment.

“While deployed, we worked long hours in a high stress environment,” said Cummings. “Over there we had at least six aircraft available, 24 hours a day.”

The training will include transport, escort and close air support flights to train newer Marines to operate weapons systems accurately. They will also learn what aircraft problems they may experience while forward. The flights will allow pilots and crew to familiarize themselves with flying in Southern California.

Southern California has many hills and mountains, but in Afghanistan the squadron was in a flat desert area, explained Cummings.

The training also gives Marines time to relax before their next deployment.

“You need this time to decompress and let the Marines see what they’re fighting for,” said Geisler. “It also gives other units a chance to deploy and see what all their training is going toward.”

The Marines of HMLA-369 continue to train for the next flights where they will have to support ground units and ultimately save Marine lives.