Forging the 'Cold Steel' of BLT 1/6
Marine Corps News
Release Date: 10/8/2003
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Sept. 30, 2003) -- The grunts of C Co., Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines (BLT 1/6) are waiting for a ride. Heavily armed and sweating in their ballistic vests and helmets, their faces streaked with green and black pain, the Marines keep a watchful eye open for the aircraft that will lift them out of battle.
Shrouded in the inky blackness of the night sky, the aircraft are heard long before they are seen. Distinguishable only to the most acute ear, the thumping of the rotors and roar of engines represents every aircraft in the inventory of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced) (HMM-266 [Rein]); Sea Knights, Super Stallions, Super Cobras, and Huey helicopters, and somewhere far overheard, Harrier attack jets.
When the assault aircraft finally land and the infantrymen scramble aboard, leaving behind a devastated 'terrorist camp,' it is the culminating moment in a week-long training evolution that has forged a key force in the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit's (MEU) arsenal.
The Helicopter Raid Course, overseen by the II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Group (SOTG), is designed to integrate the 22d MEU's designated helicopter company (C/1/6) with its aviation combat element. Together, the units refine the established techniques and procedures for conducting heliborne amphibious raids in both daytime and night conditions.
Prior to coming to the course, C Co., whose call sign is 'Cold Steel,' established a standard operating procedure (SOP) detailing how a helicopter company conducts business. Their participation in the course gave them the opportunity to put their SOP to the test.
"We're going to look at how we do things while we're out here," said Capt. Paul C. Merida, commanding officer of C Co., addressing his company staff and platoon leaders. "If we find something that doesn't work or a better way of doing it, we'll make those changes and incorporate them into the SOP."
During the five-day course, Capt. Merida and his Marines conducted two raids aboard Camp Lejeune, one at night and the other during the day. Many of the Marines agreed the most beneficial part of the training was getting the Marines on and off the helicopters.
"Anytime we get the chance to train with the air wing, it makes us better at our job," said Pvt. 1st Class Stephen E. Grimm, of Annapolis, Maryland, a rifleman with 3d Platoon. "We don't get up in the aircraft every day, so this is a prime opportunity for us to see what we can do."
In addition to conducting the actual raids, C Co. focused a honing the individual skills of the Marines when the opportunities arose. Instructors from SOTG gave 'round robin' classes on the handling of enemy prisoners of war (EPWs), room-clearing techniques, and conducting searches of enemy personnel.
"Training like this in close quarters gives us a chance to get to know each other better," said Lance Cpl. Vincent J. Leonetti, of Franklinville, N.J. "Being around the guy 24 hours a day brings the platoon closer together and creates a brotherhood."
Evaluators from SOTG monitored the company's performance throughout the course, critiquing its performance on everything from the planning process to the actual execution of the raids.
"SOTG gave us another view of how we did," said Grimm. "They were able to tell us our strengths and weaknesses and where we need to improve at the company and fire team levels. That's very valuable."
While HMM-266 (Rein) was used in a supporting role to train C Co., its Marines benefited from the course as well because the squadron was able to work with the company with whom they will primarily support during the deployment.
"We worked with the company at Exercise TANDEM THRUST in Yuma," said Capt. Chris 'Shag' Powers, a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot assigned to HMM-266 (Rein), and who was tasked supporting the C Co.'s night raid. "Tonight is the first time this many elements of the squadron have been together since then, and with different people, so it's good training for us as well."
During upcoming pre-deployment training exercises and the actual deployment, the helicopter company may be tasked to perform raids, reinforcement missions, the employment of non-lethal weapons and tactics (for which they went through another SOTG course), and seizure operations.
"The training is very realistic," said Leonetti, "because it gives us a chance to practice what we may be doing for real in a few months."
In addition to BLT 1/6 and HMM-266 (Rein), the 22d MEU consists of its Command Element and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU is scheduled to deploy early next year aboard the USS WASP, SHREVEPORT, and WHIDBEY ISLAND as part of the WASP Expeditionary Strike Group/22d MEU.
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