CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – When Marines need essential gear in the field, vehicles or equipment, they call a group of landing support specialists known as a helicopter support team.
To ensure these Marines are ready for when duty calls, Marines with Transportation Support Detachment, Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group, conducted an HST aerial lift aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 25, 2013.
“In a combat situation, whenever you need to do a resupply or have to bring anything from A to B, it is our job to get vital cargo to any unit via land, air and sea,” said Sgt. David A. Montes, a landing support specialist with TS Detachment, CLB-15, 1st MLG. “We are basically the (postal service) for the Marine Corps and HSTs are our bread and butter.”
A single HST mission can provide up to 28,000 pounds of chow, water, ammunition or fuel needed to resupply a specific remote location, making it both expeditious and efficient while offering a very important resource to the ground combat elements.
The team of 10 practiced aerial lifts well into the night, lifting a cargo net filled with more than 700 pounds of oversized tires to help keep their skills sharp. The pilots and crew of two CH-46E Sea Knights assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 and HMM-364, participated in the exercise to bolster both the Marines on the ground and their own training.
“In those moments where Marines need equipment, food, ammo or fuel immediately, we need to be there,” said Montes, a native of Dallas. “The main purpose of a landing support specialist is getting vital cargo to our Marines. Anywhere they need to pick this stuff up at, day or night, we will set up a secure landing zone and get it to them.”
External lifts are important because not all cargo, like large vehicles or artillery weapons, can fit safely inside an aircraft, Montes explained. Additionally, the ability to quickly drop large cargo and leave while under enemy fire is a necessity.
The evening’s training may have only been practice, but working underneath a hovering helicopter with 200 mile-per-hour winds presents unique dangers.
“The environment you find yourself in is not an easy one,” added Montes. “There are a lot of people that are nervous, but that’s why we practice. Marines are able to get more familiar with the job and operate well under these situations. Not everyone knows what they will do in a certain situation, but the more times you do it, the more efficient you get.”
HST Marines faced more than rotor wash while attempting to attach the cement weight; they had to overcome the challenge of difusing 200,000 volts of static electricity generated by the helicopter. To do so, the Marines attached grounding rods to the cargo to neautralize the deadly static.
“It’s an adrenaline rush being under a (helicopter),” said Private First Class James E. Riley, a landing support specialist with TS Detachment, CLB-15, 1st MLG. “It hits you pretty quick and you need to be able to stay on your feet and get the job done. It’s important to make sure you know what you are doing at all times and be aware of your surroundings.”
While working under an aircraft in flight, Marines wear flak vests, Kevlar helmets, goggles, gloves and face masks to protect themselves from high-speed debris kicked up by roaring rotor wash.
“It’s important for us to practice continually,” said Riley, a native of Wausau, Wis. “Field training is the best training you can get because you know how you will react under pressure. You get hands on and it helps build muscle memory. The more times we do this the more comfortable we feel with it, so the faster we can get in there and get the load set up for the units. It’s all about speed and intensity.”
Helicopter support teams do more than attach external loads; they also set up terminals to process personnel and cargo for flights, recover downed vehicles or personnel, as well as load ships and rail cars.
The HST Marines continue to train and rehearse with helicopter squadrons, refining their skills, so they are ready to provide an external lift at a moments notice.