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An AH-1W Super Cobra assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 takes off from the Camp Bastion flight line to provide support to the Marines of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, Sept. 30. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman)

Photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman

Marines fight with ‘ACE in the hole’

10 Oct 2008 | Sgt. Steve Cushman

A Marine company engaged in battle against insurgent forces approach a fortified position.  Minutes after a radio call is made for more fire support, the Marines hear the sound of rotors.  An attack helicopter bursts through the clouds and swoops in to destroy the enemy.

This air support has given the Marines more firepower to seek out and destroy the insurgent threat they face here in Afghanistan.

Until now, rotary wing air support was sporadic at best for the Marines of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, which deployed to Afghanistan in April to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

The task force was recently augmented by four CH-53E “Super Stallion” and AH-1W “Super Cobra” helicopters.  The aviation combat element, which deployed here from Iraq’s Al Anbar Province to provide direct support for TF 2/7, reinforces the battalion with reliable re-supply and close air support that the battalion didn’t have throughout the first half of their deployment.

“Before these helicopter assets were supporting the battalion, there was no direct rotary wing support… we were using joint support from the British,” said Capt. James R. Meyer, air officer and Clarksville, Va., native. “We were competing with all of the other units in the area of operations (AO). There were not enough helicopter assets in the AO, but now we have the air support we need to complete our mission.”

A vital asset to mission success, the aviation combat element proved to be the only thing missing.  To assist the Marines in their mission to conduct counterinsurgency operations with a focus on training and mentoring of the Afghan National Police, the task force is supported by various attachments that include such reinforcements as a combat engineers platoon, a shock trauma platoon, a radio battalion unit, reconnaissance Marines, DynCorp civilian contractors, and personnel who specialize in civil military operations. 

In addition to providing the Marines close air support to wreak havoc upon the enemy, aviation support is needed to replenish the food and ammunition the Marines expend in combat.

The Super Stallions, which are attached to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, Calif., provide transportation for the Marines and transport supplies that allow TF 2/7 to carry out its mission to conduct full spectrum operations.  Outside of transporting the heaviest of Marine equipment, like the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles the Marines have relied upon for protection against IEDs (improvised explosive devices), these are heavy-lift helicopters that primarily deliver such items as food, water, mail and combat gear.   

“The most important cargo the 53’s carry are the Marines.  With these helicopters, we’re able to move the Marines between FOBs (forward operating bases) while keeping them off the roads,” Capt. Meyer said. “We also have insert and extract capabilities to areas that are inaccessible by road.”

As the “Heavy Haulers” deliver destructive payloads of bullets, grenades and Marines, the Super Cobras provide direct security.  They also serve as an “ACE in the hole” for the Marines, when needed.

“It’s well known among the enemy, with good reason, to never fire at the skinny grey helicopters,” said Maj. Mike M. Richman, Detachment B officer-in-charge of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 (HML/A-269) and North Lake, Wisc., native. “By being on station, we impede the enemy’s sanctuary and freedom of movement.  They can’t move into position to fire at the Marines on the ground, because they know if we can see them, we’ll kill them.”

The “Gunrunners,” which are attached to HMLA-269 at MCAS New River, N.C., focus on providing three areas of support for the battalion.  In addition to providing close air support for the Marines on the ground, they also escort the Super Stallions into possible or known hostile areas. Because of danger on the roads, the Super Cobras escort convoys on the dangerous treks throughout Afghanistan’s rugged terrain.

“There’s one thing our helicopters are built for, and it’s not to carry things,” Maj. Richman said. “In addition to flying scheduled missions, we wait for 2/7 Marines to get into contact with the enemy; then we take off to destroy the enemy.  Even though our squadron name has the word ‘light’ in it, there is nothing light about our attack capabilities.”

The Heavy Haulers and Gunrunners provide 24-hour-a-day support. Maintaining a high level of readiness, the helicopters can be launched in a moment’s notice.

 “We have a customer service relationship with the Marines on the deck,” Maj. Richman said. Any Marine should be able to call us on the radio and let us know what kind of support they need. We tailor the services we provide to fit the needs of the situation as best as possible.”