HMH-366 heavy helicopters lift M777 howitzers

21 Mar 2013 | Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

The steady beat of CH-53E Super Stallions in flight reverberated through the sky over Fort Bragg, N.C., during joint training missions here March 10 through 15.

Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 worked hand in hand with the Army’s 18th Fires Brigade, conducting artillery raids through most of the week. During an artillery raid, helicopters pick up artillery and fly them to a new location where soldiers set up, respond to fire support requests, and then withdraw via helicopter within hours. During the training, a total of 29 artillery lifts took place.

Both units are required to maintain their ability to carry out the raids. With the nature of today’s warfare environment, both soldiers and Marines benefit from familiarizing themselves with the others’ operational procedures.

“Oftentimes, when we’re in combat, we never know who’s going to show up to move our guns for us,” said Command Sgt. Maj. William Bauer, of 1st Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment. “It could be our own aircraft or it could end up being the Marines, and we need to be able to understand the way they do things. We need to understand what they’ll need from us to move our equipment and find out all the different intricacies of what the Marines do when we work with them.”

The Marines also appreciated an opportunity to work in a realistic scenario, a luxury not always available during squadron-level training. When training with the limited resources, the pilots and aircrew often practice lifting concrete blocks and steel I-beams.

Lance Cpl. Douglas R. Resendiz, a CH-53E crew chief with the squadron, said it encourages crew chiefs to make the margin of error as small as possible because, while it is not a big deal if a concrete block takes damage, no one wants to drag a multi-million dollar artillery piece through the dirt.

Resendiz also said the exercise built cohesion with the Army because he was able to work with soldiers at the pick-up point to make sure the artillery took off safely. Of the squadron, four pilots and seven aircrew executed their first-ever lifts of an M777 howitzer.

The training also challenged the pilots. In a training exercise with so many moving parts, factors like weather, miscommunication, and mechanical failures can throw a monkey wrench into the plan, forcing leaders to adapt and change course on the fly.

“You learn more when it doesn’t go your way,” said Capt. Shawn J. Piner, a pilot with the squadron. “When you’re planning, you’re secluded, you have people helping you, you have time to think of what you want to happen, then if everything happens the way you want it to happen, it’s easy.”

Piner said that if the plan goes astray, leaders must think quickly about the aircraft’s capabilities, available fuel, possible changes to the operational timeline and more. Piner earned his section leader qualification March 12, meaning he is qualified lead a flight of two aircraft.

Pilots, aircrew and artillery troops planned and conducted the training with responsible use of taxpayer dollars in mind..

“Participating units have been able to lean on one another’s resources to ‘do more with less,’” said Capt. Thomas L. Nicholson, the assistant operations officer of the squadron. “Having space in [the 18th Fires Brigade’s] barracks and transportation to offer our Marine air crews, the brigade created an opportunity for HMH-366 to travel to Fort Brag with almost zero cost above what would normally be spent for flight operations at Cherry Point.”

HMH-366 Marines provides a valuable resource to the 18th Fires Brigade at a time when many Army squadrons are deployed, said Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Jacobs, the sergeant major of the 18th Fires Brigade.

“With the Army aircraft being deployed to Afghanistan, we would have very limited training of this type if it weren’t for the Marine Corps,” Jacobs. “It’s been a huge asset to continuously work with them, so we can continue to train on this type of mission that we have to do.”

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point