MARTINSVILLE, Va. --
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit successfully completed its first Realistic Urban Training long-range heliborne raid Nov. 8.
This raid showcased the MEU’s ability to combine aircraft and infantrymen for a single attack at a location hours away, an achievement only accomplished by close interaction between the Aviation Combat Element and the Ground Combat Element.
“Relationships are what allow the MEU to function as a whole, not as separate parts,” said Capt. Sean Dynan, Alpha company commander, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “During training, Marines were taught the different elements of the MEU, and now you get to see it.”
Previously, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced) and the BLT conducted several heliborne raids, traveling short distances to assault an objective. The joint training helped construct the building blocks of their current partnership that attributed to the mission’s success, an assault on an empty factory filled with simulated insurgents, one of which was a high priority capture.
“Teamwork is essential,” said Dynan. “As a helo company, I can’t operate without them, and they can’t operate without me. Having the helos are essential, it’s just as essential as having my M-16 (rifle).”
As the Marines on the ground executed the actual assault, pilots kept a close eye on the Marines from above, monitoring their movement and remaining ready to offer medical or artillery support. However, unlike previous raids, which were quick hits on objectives, the long-range raid demonstrated the BLT’s and ACE’s ability to hit targets far and wide. Doing so required both sides to plan, prepare and operate together to overcome the mission’s logistic challenges.
“Fuel burn itself becomes an enemy,” said Maj. Alex Fulford, pilot, HMM-365 (Rein). “The [farther] you’re away and the longer the Marines take, the more time the aircrafts are sitting there spinning, burning fuel.”
“Most of the time when we are doing operations like this, we are going into hostile territory and we don’t have much time to refuel,” said Gunnery Sgt. Rosendo Deleon, company gunnery sergeant, Alpha Company, BLT 1/6. “The further you [travel], the faster the mission has to be.”
The Marines spent days honing their craft to complete the time-sensitive task.
“For this mission, we had to get it right the first time,” said 1st Sgt. Scott D. Hamm, company first sergeant, Alpha Company, BLT 1/6. “We couldn’t sit there and wait to get our accountability right. We had to be ready to go when the birds (helicopters) landed. If not, we would’ve either been forced to stop or end up leaving a Marine a behind. When that happens you’ll have a really bad day.”
Although they are separated from the fight, Marines in the air do what they can to ensure Marines on the ground live to fight another day.
“If I can get the enemy to shoot me instead of the grunts or if I can shoot the enemy before he shoots them – it’s all the better,” said Fulford. “Our sole job is to support the grunts. We do not have a job without them. We get them to the fight, support them during the fight and get them home.”