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1st Tank Battalion communications gets lift from helos

1 Jul 2009 | Pfc. Jeremy Fasci

Tanks and helicopters teamed up here June 26 to July 2 to get a rare type of training.

Pilots from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 and 466, Marine Aircraft Group 16, out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., flew CH-53E Super Stallions to training areas at Twentynine Palms, Calif., to help 1st Tank Battalion with their communication issues while in the field.

“We had two helicopters come in last week and perform an insertion of two humvees and four Marines on top of Mount Hidalgo to establish a retransmission site to assist in establishing our communication network across our area of operation,” said Capt. Jayson M. Welihan, the air officer for 1st Tank Bn.  “Today we are going to go up there and pull those four Marines, with all their gear and vehicles, off the mountain.”

This opportunity gave both groups the ability to participate in some training that is not normally available to them.

“This will help the pilots because most of the time, when they are doing external lifts, they are usually just picking up concrete slabs,” said Welihan, 31, from Jackson, Mich.  “This allows us to get real-world training stateside and see the type of missions that we might actually be conducting in country.”

Flying with a humvee rather than a just a concrete slab creates many different challenges.

“This is a little more dynamic because the load will handle differently in the wind and under the different conditions,” said Capt. Gregg Safinski, the forward air controller for 1st Tank Bn.

This is the first time the Marines currently with the battalion had the opportunity to place a retransmission site atop a mountain in the training area of operations.

“The only way to get a retransmission site on that mountain is by helicopter, so these guys coming out and supporting us really shows the ‘Wing’s’ role in supporting the MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force),” said Welihan.

The air officers for the battalion also were provided the ability to do training that does not normally happen.

“This training is good for myself and Captain Welihan, as far as controlling the aircraft and determining a good elevation and the right terrain feature to insert and extract the Marines in the retransmission site,” said Safinski, 30, from Miami.

The extraction was more important than the insertion of the Marines on the mountain.

“Extraction is the biggest worry because if the insertion didn’t go right we would find another means to retransmit the signal, but if the extraction goes wrong we have no means of getting the Marines off the mountain,” said Safinski.  “Something like weather or mechanical problems could cause an issue because we have no other way of resupplying those Marines, or in case of an emergency, providing extraction.”

Overall the mission was successful and the training gave all of the Marines involved an opportunity for training they do not normally get.

“Because of the efforts of Gunnery Sgt. (Eric W.) Dueweke [the battalion communications chief] and his Marines, communications throughout the area of operation during Summer Heat was a success,” said Master Sgt. Bret D. Baker, 37, the communications maintenance chief for the 1st Tank Bn., from Pensacola, Fla.