During an exercise, June 17, 2015, a pair of CH-53E Super Stallions emerged from the horizon carrying M777 howitzers, ammunition, and the Marines needed to quickly use the hulking weapons to provide supporting fire.
The Super Stallions and their crewmembers worked with the Marines of 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, during the artillery unit’s quarterly exercise to test their proficiency and readiness, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
“They’re going to simulate dropping into hot landing zones and begin fire missions,” said Sgt. Maj. Cortez Brown, the battalion sergeant major of 1/11.
We do a lot of simulations without the helicopters, he said. Being able to do an airlift hands-on is a rarity, so they capitalized upon the opportunity to train with the Super Stallions, assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466.
The exercise trained the Marines for anything they may encounter when entering a landing zone.
“There are situations where we may not be able to drive in,” said Brown. “That’s why we can have these helicopters to help us get in fast and send rounds down range.”
Having the ability to reach any area to support adjacent units is vital for the artillery batteries.
“The artillery batteries deploy with all the west coast [Marine Expeditionary Units],” said Lt. Col. William H. Chronister, the commanding officer of 1/11. “Part of those MEUs is to have the skill set to conduct heli-borne artillery raids, so this is in their work-up cycle in order to strengthen their proficiency.”
“Sometimes air is the only option,” Cpl. James Gould, a field artilleryman with Co. A., 1/11, added. “It’s good to get training to [perform] airlifts so when you deploy, you know what you’re doing.”
The Marines completed the training without any mistakes or problems.
“All the Marines across the regiment always perform great, they’re very intelligent, eager and have lots of initiative so they love to come out to the field and get their hands dirty,” Chronister said.
The Marines don’t jump straight into the airlift operations; they begin with visiting the aircraft at the airfield and then progress to lifting the howitzer in the maintenance bay with a cargo crane. Once they are confident in their abilities, the Marines then receive the chance to conduct the raid simulation in real-time.
“I want to prepare them to be better and be ready for anything in any clime and place,” Brown said. “I want them to train for reality; the reality of life is sometimes you just don’t know, so we must train for every scenario.”