11th MEU training lifts cargo, spirits

20 Sep 2002 | Sgt. Brian J. Griffin 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Standing in the eye of a man-made tornado, sand, pebbles and debris whirl around the Marines concentrating on their task.

The thundering clap of rotor blades from a 16,500-pound helicopter hovering overhead reduces communication to hand and arm signals.

The 100 mph downwash of a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter isn't enough to prevent the members of the Helicopter Support Team, Landing Support Detachment, MEU Service Support Group 11, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) from doing their job--hooking external cargo to the helicopter for transport. 

During a recent exercise in the Central Command area of operations, MEU forces training on desert firing ranges initially did not have enough targets. After range officials located some old vehicle hulls fit for the job, the HST was called in to move the vehicles to the ranges. 

Prior to such missions the Marines focus on preparation.

"I?m thinking about safety and whether or not everybody knows where to be and what they need be doing," said Cpl. Brian Duffy, HST member, MSSG-11, 11th MEU (SOC). "If a guy goes in not knowing what he?s doing, chances are something bad could happen."

Having situational awareness and being informed is second nature to this seasoned Marine team.

"We?ve been together as a team for over the past year," said Sgt. James Fincher, HST commander, MSSG-11, 11th MEU (SOC). "We?ve done several of these types of missions and we know all the procedures for a lift like this."

Relying on their training, experience, and their buddy?s watchful eye, these Marines are ready for the job.

They break into action, opening boxes, laying out gear and surveying the objects to be lifted: old, rusted and busted up truck hulls. Within moments, they have laid out everything they need and the team begins hooking up slings to the first hull. They also break out any glass and tear off any loose material that could be dangerous in the lift process.

Three minutes later, they are ready for the helicopter to arrive and lift the cargo.  Quickly and carefully, the Marines look around for anything that could blow around when the bird comes in, becoming a flying hazard. 

With the area cleared, the helicopter is seen in the distance moving towards them.  The team gets in their assigned positions, each keeping a watchful eye on the cargo and their fellow team members. 

Arriving at the team's position, the bird begins to hover 15 feet above the ground.  With the bird above them, the Marines signal to their partners. The outside guide, who is in front of the helicopter, gives the pilot guidance on how far to descend. 

As the rotors whirl, dust and sand flies in the distance. Sneaking up on them, the Marines are soon engulfed in a tornado-like storm. It is no surprise some of them wear goggles and gas masks to help them breathe in the sandy environment.

The bird descends slowly until it is less than 10 feet off the ground with a hook hanging just within reach of the Marines.  A Marine with a static wand, used to ground any electrical current running through the hook, taps the hook and grounds it out.
During the next phase, two Marines grab the slings with loops connected at the end and clasp it into the hook attached under the helicopter.

After securing the slings, all nonessential personnel run to a designated rally point a safe distance away from the helicopter.

Two Marines stay under the aircraft as it begins to lift the load. One watches for safety matters as another ensures the slings don?t get tangled on the cargo--the key to a successful mission.

"During training, we usually work with a type of block," Fincher said. "With this type of mission, we have to be concerned about how the cargo might get twisted or shift when it is being lifted."

With another flurry of sand and dust, the helicopter?s payload is airborne. Now on the way to its destination, the hull will meet another group of HST members, who will be waiting to unhook the cargo at its target location.

Looking forward to any opportunity to use their skills, the HST Marines couldn't be happier.

With the dust and targets now settled into place, they call it a day after successfully moving more than 7,000 pounds of vehicle hulls. 

"These types of missions are exciting and they are what we like to do," Fincher said. "I wish we could do more of them.  My guys did a great job."

Marine Corps News

Colonel Thomas M. Siverts
Commanding Officer

Colonel Tom Siverts is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1989. He achieved a commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program following his graduation from the University of Virginia in May 1999. Colonel Siverts has deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and ENDURING FREEDOM. His other operational deployments include serving with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/8, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU); BLT 3/8, 22d MEU; BLT 2/8, 26th MEU, and Task Force 61/2.

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Lieutenant Col. Steven M. Sprigg
Executive Officer

LtCol Sprigg was born in Parkersburg, WV. LtCol Sprigg enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in September 2004 and recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. LtCol Sprigg was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in March 2008. He was designated a Naval Aviator in February 2011 and reported to HMLAT-303 for training as an AH-1W pilot. LtCol Sprigg is currently serving as the Executive Officer for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Camp Pendleton, California.

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Sergeant Major Travis L. DeBarr
Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major DeBarr enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD San Diego, CA, for recruit training in October 1994.Staff Sergeant DeBarr completed two combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2005 to April 2006 and again form March 2007 to September 2007. While serving with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, First Sergeant DeBarr completed one combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from October 2012 to May 2013. Sergeant Major DeBarr currently serves as the Sergeant Major for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

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