VICTORVILLE, Calif. -- The "Sea Elks" of the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, wrapped up Training in an Urban Environment (TRUE) here, Oct. 11-20. TRUE is part of a routine, six-month training cycle for the 11th MEU in preparation for their upcoming deployment to the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf regions.
During TRUE, the 11th MEU's Command Element, along with support from the MEU Major Subordinate Elements, HMM-166, Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, MEU Service Support Group 11 and Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, both from Camp Pendleton, planned and executed three missions in mock urban environments. The missions included a raid on a suspected terrorist training camp, a raid on a suspected vehicle borne improvised explosive device factory and a hit on an insurgent safehouse. The scenarios gave the command and subordinate elements an opportunity to sharpen their rapid response planning process, which is a part of the certification needed by the 11th MEU to be qualified as Special Operations Capable.
The Sea Elks brought more than 180 Marines and sailors and 16 helicopters including, UH-1N Hueys, Ch-46 Sea Knights, CH-53 Sea Stallions, AH-1W Cobra helicopters to support the multiple missions of TRUE training.
Being located in the Mojave Desert and training in post-summer weather, the Marines and sailors from the 11th MEU experienced the barren region's changing climate both on the ground and in the air.
During one exercise, in which the Maritime Special Purpose Force team raided a suspected improvised explosive device-making facility on the ground, helicopters flew through bumpy winds and dark clouds on their way to the objective.
"We flew in at night and we were under some demanding circumstances," said Capt. Peter "Scab" Reitmeyer, a UH-1N Huey pilot who flew the command and control aircraft. The tough part was maneuvering through the harsh weather while still keeping the altitude required to maintain command and control of the mission, he said.
With inclement and unpredictable weather included in the exercises, a whole new level of realism was added for the Marines and sailors of HMM-166.
"We were flying day and night in some challenging weather and terrain," said Cpl. Ivan Sahagun, Ch-46 crewchief from Tustin. "The landing zone was tight and everyone had to really focus on their job," said Sgt. William Ellington, an aerial observer from Gaston, S.C. "But when you're actually out here it feels like the real deal and that makes it fun for me."
With the sunrise and the first mission completed, and with only a few hours having passed since the rotor blades had stopped spinning, the Marines were back out getting their aircraft ready for the next mission. That's how the Marines and sailors of HMM-166 began and ended their days–with a raid.
While some Marines thought the training was fun, others, like Cpl.'s Marcus Egula and Derek Greinier, avionic technicians, and Lance Cpl. Raymond Humerick, crewchief, CH-46 Sea Knight, appreciated the knowledge they received.
"We learned a lot at school," said Humerick. "But the learning really starts when you get to the fleet and do training like this."