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"One team, one fight": Marine aviators help Airborne Artillerymen get their Howitzers into battle

Sep 3, 2009

By Mike Pryor (82nd Airborne Division)

FORT BRAGG, N.C.- The afternoon sky was clear and calm, but Spc. Jeremy Randlett felt like he was in the middle of a tornado.

Randlett was bracing himself on top of a Humvee, a thick cable in his hand, trying to keep his balance against the powerful rotor wash of the 35,000-pound helicopter hovering just a few feet over his head.

A short while earlier, Randlett's commander had informed him he was going to be the "hook man" during the sling-load portion of his unit's air assault mission. At the time, Randlett was excited, even if he wasn't quite sure what it meant. But now, with an enormous "Sea Stallion" Marine helicopter inching closer to his head, and the entire mission depending on him, Randlett was feeling the pressure.

"I just didn't want someone saying, 'Get down from there Randlett, you can't handle it.' That's what was going through my mind," he said.

As the wind slammed against his body, Randlett struggled to route the loop of the cable attached to the Humvee beneath his feet around the cargo hook of the helicopter. To his relief, the loop soon caught on the hook. Randlett jumped from the roof of the Humvee, and a few moments later, the helicopter ascended, lifting the 5,000-pound vehicle into the air beneath it.

"That was awesome," said Randlett breathlessly as the helicopter disappeared over the horizon.

Randlett's job as the "hook man" was just one of the many hundreds of tasks that had to be performed successfully during the complex air assault exercise conducted by the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Aug. 27.

The air assault was part of the 2nd BCT's larger Joint Forcible Entry Exercise, which involved more than 1,000 Paratroopers conducting parachute assaults onto multiple Fort Bragg training areas to defeat a large enemy force.

The air assault operation was designed to test the ability of the 2-319th AFAR "Black Falcons" to rapidly re-position their Howitzers on the battlefield to provide fire support to friendly units engaged in combat.

During the exercise, two Howitzers were loaded into the bellies of two CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, which were then sling-loaded with Humvees and ferried 10,000 meters to another position. The helicopters that transported the troops and equipment were piloted by crews from the North Carolina National Guard and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, out of New River, N.C.

"It's good practice for us, because it's something we have to do in combat," said 1st Lt. Edward Murdoch, a platoon leader with Battery B, 2-319th AFAR, who took part in the training.

Murdoch added that the exercise closely replicated the type of missions artillery units are conducting regularly in Afghanistan.

Murdoch said the inclusion of Marine aviation in the exercise was also important, given the joint nature of most current military operations. This was the first time his unit had been able to train with the Marines, he said.

Randlett said he was impressed by the cooperation between the Marines and Soldiers during the operation.

"One team, one fight," he said. "I'm happy the Marines were able to help us out."

Pfc. Luis Rovira, a Puerto Rico native with Headquarters Battery, assisted Randlett during the Sling-load operation. He said the exercise was one of the most exciting things he had been a part of since coming to the 82nd.

"That wind was powerful, you feel the adrenaline . . . It was one of the coolest things I've done," Rovira said.

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