FORT PICKETT, Va. -- Ever wonder how Marines move supplies at night, vast distances, quickly, without the use of motorized vehicles?
Helicopters. Of course the simple answer does not explain the intricacies involved with getting food, water, ammo and artillery cannons from ships to boots on the ground. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Combat Logistics Battalion 24 and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-261 (Reinforced) spent Jan. 16, 2012, training to do just that at Blackstone Army Airfield. Here’s how they do it: On the ground Before the CH-53s can transport anything, HST Marines must prepare the load. “All lifts are different,” said Cpl. Brendon Giggey, a landing support specialist with CLB 24’s HST. “We could lift HE (high explosives), equipment, QUADCONs (Quadruple Containers), Humvees, artillery cannons … we can lift anything.” During the training, the Marines prepared a QUADCON full of gear for pickup and delivery by attaching a sling able to support up to 2,500 pounds. “We have 10K nets, 15K slings, 25K slings, 40K slings,” he said. Once the load was prepared, a CH-53 helicopter hovered over the QUADCON, and dropped an attachment for the HST to hook onto the load, then carried it away, flew in a circle, then returned the load to the HST. The training served as a refresher for the HST Marines’ military occupational specialty because it allowed them to perform their job as they would in a real world environment. “It keeps our junior Marines and ourselves proficient in our jobs, so we’ll be very proficient at a time when we need it,” he said. In the air Helicopter pilots who are able to conduct external lifts, must perform five external lifts in low light every six months to stay current in their qualification to conduct such missions, all while under the supervision of an instructor evaluating their performance, according to Capt. Daniel Alger, a CH-53 pilot with VMM-261. “You have to demonstrate proficiency on at least five picks,” Alger said. “Five times coming in to pick up a load, fly around the pattern, and then drop it off within five meters of where you picked it up.” To perform the lifts, the pilots depend on their crew chiefs to guide them onto the load. It falls on the crew chief’s shoulders to enable his pilot to make a successful pick. “Once we come into the zone and have sight of the load itself our job is to call the aircraft over the top of the load and get the hook to HST where they can reach it,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Wilson, a helicopter crew chief with VMM-261. The crew chiefs also have the responsibility of ensuring the load does not endanger the Marines on the ground or the helicopter. “Our job is to talk the pilots over the top of the load to get hooked up and then lift the load without damaging the load, flipping over the load, or hurting the HST guys,” Wilson said. “Once it’s off the deck in play, we make sure the load is riding steady, or if its swinging we let the pilots know. Throughout the pattern we’re making sure the load is clear from hitting any obstacles.” Marines perform these operations in low light or night because most enemy forces lack the night vision capabilities of the Marines; therefore, operations performed at night have a lower probability of encountering hostilities while transporting assets, according to Alger. “The bad guys don’t have as much NVGs as we do, so it’s much safer to fly at night,” he said. The training served as a smaller part of the unit’s Realistic Urban Training (RUT) exercise, scheduled Jan. 5-20. The exercise serves to prepare and certify the Marines and Sailors of the 24th MEU for the various operations they may conduct during their upcoming deployment.