U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY --
The ground-pounders of Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), shed their reputation as solely mechanized raid specialists by conducting a series of platoon-sized vertical raids using UH-60 Blackhawks, Oct. 24 to 27.
Typically, as the 11th MEU's mechanized raid force, Echo Co. mounts amphibious assault vehicles (AAV) to conduct actions on their objective. As such, the company has trained primarily to execute AAV-based operations.
"We did 8 months’ worth of work-ups executing missions across the full spectrum of mechanized operations," said 1st Lt. James Lynch, a platoon commander with Echo Co., BLT 2/1, 11th MEU, and a Boxford, Massachusetts native. "Now that we're moving into helicopter-borne operations, it just adds a lot of mission sets that our company can execute now that we're trained in that different method of insertion."
Each platoon with Echo Co. executed a full mission profile. They inserted into an urban training environment where they simulated live-fire, evacuated casualties, detained role-players and conducted tactical site exploitations under both daytime and nighttime conditions.
By conducting the assaults jointly, the training reflected real-world scenarios where different services and nations work alongside each other.
"I think it’s very realistic," said Lynch. "In recent operations, we're working together closely with Army units and other forces. The Army has done casualty evacuation for us in country, so it's just a great opportunity."
For training purposes, Lynch feels nothing beats having an actual aircraft on the other end of the line when sustaining casualty evacuation procedures.
"The guys can talk on the radio to someone else and walk them through a 9-line [casualty evacuation report] or a landing zone brief all day, but until you're actually trying to relay that to the aircraft in a chaotic tactical situation, a lot can go wrong, so it was awesome to get the Marines to have that play available," said Lynch.
The Marines weren't the only ones beefing up their arsenal; the Blackhawk pilots and crew chiefs get to say they worked with the Devil Dogs to maintain their own air assault aptitude.
"It's good to coordinate with the Marines so we can learn how the Marines conduct business and they can learn how we conduct business," said Chief Warrant Officer Jim Funk, a standardization pilot for Charlie Company, 147th Aviation Assault Regiment, and an Ames, Iowa native. "When we fly an empty helicopter, we get no training. When we coordinate and deliver Marines to an objective, that’s the real training value for us and for them."
According to Capt. Larry Iverson Jr, commanding officer of Echo Co., BLT 2/1, 11th MEU, from Havelock, North Carolina, the opportunity to train with Blackhawks will allow the company to contribute to the MEU in other operations not previously available.
"Today's world is very kinetic; there are a lot of things going on and it's very useful for us to have this as a backup insert platform," he said. "It opens up other doors for the company and the MEU from the USS Comstock as we continue into the deployment."
The 11th MEU is deployed with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.