CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marine forces operating in Iraq are receiving their "bullets and band aids" in a timely manner, courtesy of a small unit of Marines here.
The Helicopter Support Team, part of the Landing Support Detachment here, provides Marines deployed throughout Iraq with the supplies and equipment they need to continue their mission while keeping their ground-based comrades a little safer.
From food and water, to medicine and tactical equipment, HST prepares and transports supplies and "basically anything they (Marines) need as quickly as we can," said Maj. Doug Pierson, the commander for Landing Support Detachment, Combat Service Support Battalion 7, HST's parent command.
Supplies are placed on pallets, wrapped in cargo nets, and picked up by either a CH-53E Super Stallion or CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter, while still in flight.
But fastening the pallets to the helicopters is not a one-two-three job. It can be dangerous. After all, the helicopter hovers just a few feet above the Marines' heads.
During pick up, a helicopter will fly directly above the pallet. The HST Marines go underneath the hovering aircraft and attach a ground line from the helicopter, dissipating any electrical charge produced by the helicopter's rotors. This prevents the Marines from electrocution while fastening the pallet to the transport line. Once the ground wire is secured, one Marine hooks the pallet to the actual transport line, while another Marine keeps watch, ensuring those working are safe as the helicopter hovers above their heads. With the net secured, the provisions are sent on their way.
"It feels very good to help them (supported units) complete their missions and that completes mine," said Cpl. Michael C. Binas, who is responsible for connecting the static electricity line for the lifts. Binas is a 24-year-old Anacortes, Wash., native.
A relatively safer means of transportation, helicopter support can deliver a payload of more than 60,000 pounds in a few hours, while a convoy of transport trucks can take up to two days to complete the same mission.
In one trip, a CH-53 can lift about 16 tons.
"It's just my way of keeping that Marine on the frontline supplied with enough water and food to do his job," said Sgt. Anson G. Smith, 27, the team leader for the HST, and a native of Richland, Wash. "It makes me feel like part of the bigger fight."
The HST has played a key role in the sustainment of remote bases throughout Iraq, delivering an average of 600,000 pounds per month for the last three months, said 1st Lt. Alex T. Kushnir, the air officer for CSSB-7, and 31-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native.
In addition to being timelier, delivering supplies via military aircraft can be much safer than the alternative - ground convoys. Marines traveling Iraq's highways often face the danger of improvised explosive devices, roadside bombs used by anti-Iraqi forces to disrupt and destroy military convoys, as well as ambush attacks as they navigate along the open terrain.
The HST is part of a larger push by the 1st Force Service Support Group to increase alternative means of transporting critical supplies to Marines throughout Iraq. As the support element of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, 1st FSSG is responsible for providing all supplies and services to the Marines and Sailors of I MEF.
Right now, most air delivery missions are taking place in far reaching areas of Iraq using HST, as well as parachute drops from KC-130 cargo planes. However, 1st FSSG is looking at ways to increase delivering supplies via air to other parts of the country, said Pierson, a 34-year-old Great Falls, Va., native.
Marines with 1st FSSG agree that there are pros and cons to both methods, but ultimately agree that increasing air delivery when applicable is a great alternative to convoys.
The Marines of HST provide an expedient and effective service to the frontlines, but their mission serves another purpose - as more supplies are delivered via air, fewer convoys have to travel the uncertain roads that hide unknown dangers.