MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- Marines with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command shielded their faces from the sand and dirt whipping through the air as a CH-53E Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 descended onto Landing Zone Parrot at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, July 20.
The helicopter supported MARSOC Marines conducting fast rope, rappel, and special purpose insert and extract training. The exercise was a part of a two-week long Helicopter Insertion and Extraction Techniques Course.
“This is more of a special insertion technique,” said Capt. Matthew Poynter, a CH-53 pilot assigned to HMH-461. “Typically, if we are inserting a group of Marines, we would probably find a larger zone for landing. But this technique is specific for when we can’t get into a [landing] zone and we need to do an insertion on a building top or in an urban environment.”
The exercise closely mirrored operations conducted in a forward deployed environment. The course is only run twice a year within the unit, said an instructor with MARSOC. Poynter also stated it is simple to keep the helicopter stable, but one false move could whip the ropes in any direction and affect the safety of the Marines attempting to rappel.
“There’s an emphasis on keeping a steady hover,” said Poynter. “You want to give them as steady of a platform as you can, so it’s as safe as possible. If everything goes properly, it’s actually a fairly benign type of exercise from the cockpit.”
According to one MARSOC instructor, the relationship between the Marine Corps’ aviation element and ground element plays a very important role in mission accomplishment.
“By maintaining open communication between MARSOC and the various squadrons, we allow each other to meet our specific training objectives,” said an instructor with MARSOC. “In a way, we do rely on each other. Both MARSOC and the squadrons have qualifications that need to be maintained. Similarly, while deployed, we also rely on each other in order to conduct operations.”
By supporting MARSOC during these types of training exercises, the pilots of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing are able to utilize the opportunity as training for themselves, said Poynter.
“Whenever we can go out and practice these special operations with them, it’s always good for us too,” said Poynter. “I’ve flown two or three of these kinds of evolutions before. My co-pilot today is getting his initial training with flying for a fast rope exercise, so this is definitely an opportunity for us to get training, as well as the MARSOC Marines.”