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A CH-53E Super Stallion flies over properties outside of El Centro, Calif., on the way to a weapons training range Dec. 20. Once authorized to begin firing, pilots and crew members will work together while firing their weapon systems at targets on the ground to train for combat situations where firing at the enemy is used to suppress fire for troop transport missions.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

Delivering a .50 caliber punch, ‘Warhorse’ hooves clobber training

3 Jan 2013 | Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

“When I was deployed to Afghanistan in January 2011, the scariest thing I saw was a bright flash come up into the air from a truck on the side of the road. Even though nothing happened, I was glad I had my gunners in the back of the aircraft ready and trained if things got hairy,” said Capt. Madeline Dougherty, the quality assurance officer and a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 “Warhorse.”

Pilots and crews serving aboard CH-53E Super Stallions perform weapons training to perfect their responses above El Centro, Calif., Dec. 20.

“We perform training like this about twice a month,” said Dougherty, a Winchester Bay, Ore., native. “If we didn’t train like this, we would have crew chiefs who don’t know how to use the weapons systems, and it’s important to train to have those skills just in case the need should arise.”

Before any training can begin, ordnance Marines must ensure the weaponry is properly attached to the aircraft and all ammunition is secured and prepared aboard the aircraft.

“The aircraft has three weapon systems attached to it, two on the doors on each side and one in the rear on the ramp,” said Lance Cpl. John Mathiasmeier, an aviation ordnance Marine with the Warhorses and a Mediapolis, Iowa, native. “These weapons will fire 950 to 1,100 rounds per minute up to 2,000 meters. If the weapon isn’t properly secured to the aircraft with the proper mounts, the weapon system becomes useless.”

While flying this now-armed aircraft, pilots must ensure the targets come into the sights of the GAU-21 .50 caliber weapon system for crew chiefs and gunners to get the best shot possible.

“All I see when I fire this weapon is a lot of tracers and even more destruction. It’s more exciting than sky diving to me,” said Lance Cpl. Shawn Eastman, a weapons and tactics instructor with the Warhorses and a Stafford, Va., native. “We fire 75 round bursts at targets to ‘suppress’ [mock enemies] for training like this, because we need to be able to perform in training the way we do in combat. If we can’t effectively fire and suppress the enemy, then we may not be able to put Marines on the ground, even though we would normally have other aircraft to help attack and destroy the enemy.”

After engaging the target with 3,600 rounds, crew chiefs communicate with pilots to ensure the threat has been minimized and so they are ready for whatever else may come their way.

“At the end of the day, with this training, crew chiefs and pilots will react in combat the same way they react here and we can realistically accomplish our mission,” said Eastman. “Whether it’s putting Marines into or picking them up from a landing zone, or giving them supplies, we have to know how to do this or people could die.”