Condors’ heavy helicopters lift Cold Response air support capabilities
By Lance Cpl. Brianna Gaudi, II Marine Expeditionary Force
VӔRNES, Norway --
Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 (reinforced) off-loaded two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy in Vӕrnes, Norway Feb. 15,2016, in preparation for Exercise Cold Response 2016 here later this month.
The squadron, also known as the Condors, forms the nucleus of the unique, single-squadron Aviation Combat Element of the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which is conducting rehearsals across the country in preparation for the exercise. Attached to this nucleus are four AH-1W Super Cobra light attack helicopters, a battery of Low-Altitude Air Defense Marines, and a host of enablers including Marine Wing Support Squadron and Marine Air Control Group personnel.
The exercise will incorporate 12 NATO and partner nations working together to enhance their collective crisis response capabilities.
The complex process of transporting the heavy lift helicopters began with dissembling them at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point N.C., weeks ago. Marines removed the main gear boxes and rotor blades, and spread the tail, all to compact the aircraft to its most minimal form.
“In order to get them on the aircraft, it requires a lot of time and precise movements. It takes a lot of man power,” said 1st Lt. Steven Whitfield, hazardous materials officer in charge with HMH-464 (reinforced). “It comes down to a matter of inches of space in order to squeeze them into a C-5.”
The Marines unloaded from the aircraft with expert precision and towed them into a hangar provided by their Norwegian hosts, where the unit will take the next few days to rebuild them and have them ready to fly before the week’s end.
“The Marines are crushing it,” said Maj. Jeremy Hawkins, a Condors pilot and the ACE operations officer. “They have a singular focus on getting these aircraft ready.”
The unit’s success is due in part to support provided by the Air Force’s 9th Airlift Squadron, which transported the helicopters across the ocean and assisted with the off load.
“Working with the Marine Corps has been a pleasure,” said Tech. Sgt. Ron Orr, a C-5 load master with 9th Airlift Squadron. “We had a highly-experienced team of personnel to help us out, which allowed for smooth mission completion.”
The Norwegian climate also presents the unit with a new set of challenges and opportunities. Simply performing maintenance, all while constantly battling the elements, is a unique part of participating in Cold Response 16.
“Being in this environment is a great opportunity. It helps us to ensure that we’re always ready no matter when the country calls us,” Whitfield said, “In any clime and place, the Marine Corps is ready.”