Photo Information

Capt. Joseph Tremaine, a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 466, conducts preflight checks aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, July 2. The aircrew prepares the aircraft for night fast-rope training on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

Photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens

No light, no problem; HMH-466 “Wolfpack” drops grunts into evening action

9 Jul 2015 | Sgt. Lillian Stephens 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Out of the darkness, the distinct growl of a CH-53E Super Stallion reaches across a dimly lit horizon. It stops, hovering at the right height before a rope drops from its “hell hole,” a hatch in the helicopter’s floor. In seconds, a squad of Marines pours out, collects the tools of their trade and vanishes into the night.

The Marines’ ability to operate with precision in darkness is a substantial asset.

Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 466, the “Wolfpack,” conducted evening fast-rope training with 76 infantry Marines from Company G, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, July 2.

Nighttime fast-rope training enables Marines to practice inserting into an area under the cover of darkness without landing the aircraft.

“The purpose is for Marines, both infantry and air crew, to gain proficiency and experience,” said Capt. Joseph Tremaine, a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot and quality assurance officer with HMH-466. “[They need] to get on and off the helicopter in a safe manner.”

The Wolfpack flew a single CH-53E Super Stallion and worked quickly, providing ample opportunity to rehearse the maneuver.

First Lt. Ryan Hilgendorf, the executive officer of  Co. G, BLT 2/1, explained that fast-rope training is imperative for the Marines in the command.

“We must be able to insert into an area [using fast rope] via [helicopter],” said Hilgendorf. “It’s more tactical with a higher probability of success.”

The infantry Marines aren’t the only ones who benefited from the training. The pilots and aircrew honed critical skills, safely operating their helicopters in a low hover above the ground in near-total darkness.

“Flying at night definitely tactically aids us. It’s another tactic that keeps the enemy from targeting us [and] firing [at] us,” said Tremaine. “Obviously, doing things at night is tougher. [There’s] less visibility ... so you really need to have that muscle memory down in order to execute the proper procedures.”

Fast-rope training can be a rare opportunity, but is very useful for the aircrew, said Tremaine. 

“It’s important that we hold a steady hover to ensure the safety of the guys getting out of the aircraft,” said Tremaine. “It’s good training for us to make sure we practice our techniques and go through our specific [communications].”