MACON, Ga. -- Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 (Reinforced) recently deployed to Robins Air Force Base, Ga. with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to participate in a Training in an Urban Environment Exercise.
The squadron participated in numerous missions in the Macon, Ga. area designed to simulate situations expected in the modern urban battlefield.
"It's unique for us to fly inside the city and operate in an urban environment. We don't do that anywhere else," said Maj. Thomas Mains, Marine Attack Squadron 231 Harrier pilot. "This training has been a perfect chance for us to integrate with intel and other fire support assets, such as Cobras and forward air controllers."
Six CH-46 Sea Knights, two UH-1 Hueys and AH-1 Cobras, four CH-53 Super Stallions, three AV-8B Harriers, one KC-130 Hercules and 287 Marines made up the detachment that attended the TRUEX, providing tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel support, familiarization flights, reconnaissance, day and night insertions and close air support, according to 1stLt. Keith Friesen, HMM-263 CH-46 pilot and unit information officer.
"Night missions are the hardest thing we do given the lights in town affecting our night vision and the fact that we only have one chance to find the landing zones," said Friesen, a native of Porterville, Calif.
Night missions require the pilots to fly with night vision goggles decreasing their peripheral vision and making the lights of the city blinding.
"The night training was good. We demonstrated more of our capability to deliver information and provide relay capability and precision close air support during an operation," said Mains, who hails from Alexandria, Va. "It's been good practice for both us and the ground side."
In addition to their traditional CAS and strike capability, Harriers and Cobras have been instrumental in relaying information and reconnaissance throughout the exercise.
"We've been searching landing zones for the follow-on forces in order to ensure there are no obstructions or enemies," said Mains. "It's a very good learning experience for us in-house with all the training for the new pilots who are integrating with helos for the first time."
Missions covered a wide variety of real-world possibilities and all training was done in actual urban territory.
"The missions have been pretty accurate to what we normally encounter in the real world. Special Operations Training Group is doing a good job of setting up the missions and feeding us intelligence," said Friesen. "We've seen a lot of rapid response training and several confirmation briefs. It's been a good all-hands effort by the squadron to get it done."
The squadron arrived May 10 and began familiarization flights of the area. "We arrived here just before a cold front and since then the weather has been wonderful, we really couldn't ask for better weather for flight operations."
Maintenance Marines have been making use of the Air Forces facilities and working nights to keep the birds flying.
"All my Marines are excited about this training as it relates to their deployment. All of them volunteered to join the MEU and I haven't heard any complaints," said SSgt. Matthew Hill, VMA-231 airframe mechanic and native of Concord, N.H. native.
Squadron Marines will be staying aboard Base Camp Warrior until May 23 when they will return to Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point.