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Hammerheads Take to the Skies: HMH-366 Supports 1/10 During Carolina Thunder

US Marine Corps News

By Cpl. Jennifer Poole, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point

Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 took to the skies of eastern North Carolina during Exercise Carolina Thunder to support 1st Battalion, 10th Marines Regiment at Fort. Bragg, N.C., Oct. 21-23.

The squadron worked hand-in-hand with ground teams to support the battalion during a simulated artillery raid. During the exercise, the squadron transported 13 M777 155 mm howitzers via CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from one landing zone to a firing position elsewhere.

“I’ve done this type of external lift before; however, each time you’re lifting equipment worth millions of dollars, it can be a little nerve wracking,” said Capt. Dan Murphy, assistant operations officer for HMH-366. “For the pilots in the squadron who’ve never done it before, this exercise gave them the experience and confidence. More experienced pilots are on hand to help with any problems or issues that might arise.”

Because of time constraints the squadron wasn’t able to extract the guns, therefore, the exercise was not a complete artillery raid, Murphy said.

“This exercise was definitely the first building block to an artillery raid,” Murphy said. “It’s always a great thing when you can get any type of extra training stateside before being deployed.”

Planning for the exercise began approximately two weeks prior, and it took the cooperation from all teams involved to complete the evolution.

“Anytime you can utilize a joint effort between the air and ground is great,” said Col. Phillip Boggs, 10th Marines regimental commander. “We’re using our air support in Afghanistan, so we must get used to training like that stateside. This is probably some of the best training we can get between the riggers, aircrew and firing crew.”

The air and ground crew worked simultaneously to complete the exercise as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

“We’re here to support the ground scheme of maneuver -- that is our mission. If we can’t do that, then there’s no reason for us to be here,” Murphy said. “Everyone plays an integral part in completing the mission from the pilot, all the way down to the Marines on the ground hooking up the equipment.”

Though a training environment is used to simulate the best scenario possible, the squadron, as well as the ground crew, experienced firsthand what it’s like to work under less than ideal situations.

“On the first day we were down to one aircraft, which made for more stress,” Murphy said. “With the help of our maintenance crews, we were able to get two aircraft out on the second and third days. This is just one example of how resilient we must be.”

About once a week, the squadron complete similar external lifting operations.

“We normally lift 8,000-to 10,000-pound steel beams, and with transporting operational equipment, it’s more of a focus on ensuring that equipment is not damaged in any way,” Murphy said. “It’s more of a head game because you aren’t any less cautious and the procedures don‘t change, but knowing that there’s a $2 million piece of equipment dangling from your aircraft puts things in a different perspective.”

The team was comprised of approximately a dozen Marines who worked tirelessly to ensure the artillery was hooked up and released from the aircraft in a safe, steady, efficient manner.

“Without the HST, the equipment doesn’t get attached, and there’s no way for us to complete the mission,” Murphy said. “This was probably one of the best HSTs I’ve ever worked with, so having that kind of support made it easier to complete the mission at hand.”

Though the squadron is not scheduled for deployments at this time, Murphy said any training is beneficial.

“Getting the training now, before we’re deployed, is the most important thing,” Murphy said. “We could leave at a moment’s notice, and it’s better to be prepared.”

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