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HMM-263, 24th MEU (SOC), Skids hit Iraq

28 Apr 2003 | Staff Sgt. Bryan P. Reed 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The "skids" of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 flew many combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The AH1W Super Cobra and the UH1N ("Huey") are two types of aircraft flown by HMM-263. Both the Hueys and the Super Cobras are referred to as "skids," as both feature skids instead of wheels for landing.

HMM-263, the Aviation Combat Element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), detached from the MEU during Operation Iraqi Freedom. For the duration of the operation, the skids of HMM-263 were reattached to their original parent command, Marine Air Group 29, of Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina.  As the MEU concluded its operations in Iraq, the skids reattached to the MEU.

Maj. Jim T. Jenkins from Boulder, Co., operations officer, HMM-263, described what the skids did during their time in Iraq.  "The Cobras were used for Close Air Support (CAS), Armed Reconnaissance, and Convoy Support," said Jenkins.

"The Hueys were tasked with what was called 'direct support.' They did that for both 1st Marine Division and Task Force Tarawa Headquarters," Jenkins said. "They performed a utility role in which they flew various missions for the commanding general, like command visits, visual reconnaissance, MEDEVACs, a little bit of CAS," Jenkins added. The general that put the Hueys to work was Brigadier Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commanding general, Task Force Tarawa.

The skids exchanged fire with targets while serving in Iraq.

"On the 3rd of April, the Cobras killed four S-60s and ZPU-4s (anti-aircraft artillery pieces), an ammo truck, and a 20mm artillery piece," said Jenkins. "The second day was when the (2nd Marine Division) was getting into the outskirts of Baghdad. There we (hit) two artillery pieces and their ammo trucks and a tank, five S-60s, two trucks with troops and some troops in a building," he added. "While doing CAS for (3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Platoon), we had another (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) piece that was shooting at a flight..." Jenkins continued. According to Jenkins, during the attack into Baghdad, the Cobras fired on a building and killed a single troop armed with a rifle. 

The Hueys saw action against some Armored Personnel Carriers and troops right as they were crossing the Denalya River into Baghdad. "That first day was outside of Al Kut and we took some artillery fire there. There was one day with a lot of small arms fire, one day with a (Man Portable Air Defense Shoulder Fired Surface to Air Missile) shot, and there was one day with anti-aircraft artillery," said Jenkins.

Not all of the shots fired at the skids missed.  While none of the skids were shot down, one came a little closer to that fate than the rest. "We had one Cobra get hit with some small arms fire. It was (Capt. Olin M. Cannon's) airplane and he got a round through the tail rotor drive shaft," said Jenkins. "They actually fixed him right at the Forward Arming and Refueling Position. There was a Cobra there (from another unit) that was shot up a lot worse so they took the drive shaft from it and put it on Capt. Cannon's bird so he flew on that day," added Jenkins. "He didn't know his bird had been hit until he got to the FARP. He took a look and saw he'd been hit. It just went through the metal of the shaft and the shaft didn't break so it wasn't a big deal. If the shaft had broken he'd have had to shut the bird down and auto rotate down to the ground right where he was. It could have been very bad if it'd caused the drive shaft to break," he continued.

HMM-263 had already been away from their home base for seven months when they were called to serve in Iraq. During the time that they had spent attached to the 24th MEU prior to the operation, the aircraft of the squadron were flown more often than normal.  The more the aircraft are flown the more important the maintenance personnel of the squadron become due to the amount of normal stress placed on the aircraft.

"Maintenance-wise, once we found out we were going in, the maintenance guys did a great job. We wound up with five out of six Cobras and both Hueys in country. The one Cobra that couldn't make was waiting on parts. The maintainers did a great job. Once they found out it was a real fight and they had to get the birds up, they had them ready to go," said Jenkins.

HMM-263 is now, once again, the Aviation Combat Element of the 24th MEU (SOC).  The pilots and support personnel will soon begin their overdue return to the United States with a few more stories to tell.