News: Attack helicopter Marines practice close-air support, Integrate with ground troops at Camp Lejeune
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki
CHERRY POINT, N.C. - When a platoon of 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion Marines was pinned down on the rooftops of a small town by guerrilla fighters, a forward air controller called for air support. Hearing gunfire rattling over the radio, Capt. Andrew D. Kingsbury, a UH-1N Huey pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467, swooped his gunship into a dive as if to rake enemy positions with fire. Kingsbury pulled out after a couple seconds and continued circling the area; eyes and ears open for signs of trouble.
The platoon called for support several more times during this training scenario at Camp Devil Dog, N.C., Aug. 9, so the platoon could practice calling for air support and the pilots practiced giving it.
“We go out there and we try to maximize training,” said Kingsbury. “Any time you’re delivering fire for a tactical air control party or a grunt on the ground that’s within 100 meters of the target, it’s hard and it takes time to develop those skills and refine them.”
He said close air support can be difficult because the aircraft and the Marines on the ground have very different perspectives of the target they want to hit. Also, pilots have to maneuver their aircraft to strike within certain restrictions set by the air controller, like a strike moving from north to south. Kingsbury said it’s very important to practice the mechanics of coordinating an air strike.
Lance Cpl. Mitchell M. W. Moss, a crew chief on the mission, said the realistic training benefited everyone involved.
“The infantry need to be able to operate as forward air controllers for fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters,” said Moss. “They called us out and we gave them a brief flash of what it might be like if they get deployed and they have to call out helicopters for close-air support.”
Marines on the ground give gunships in the air targets to attack. After an attack, the gunships orbit the area waiting for more calls and searching for possible targets. The crew chiefs man the door guns and keep their eyes scanning areas where the pilot’s field of view is limited.
“This is our bread and butter, this is what we do,” said Kingsbury. “It takes time to get good at it.”
Kingsbury said keeping cool and thinking actions through no matter the situation is part of providing good at close-air support. Hearing gunfire over the radio gets the blood pumping and adrenaline rushing and the first instinct is to rush to the aid of the Marines on the ground, but the pilots still have to think it through.
“You’ve got to be able to take a step back real quick and say, ‘Hey, hold on, do we have everything in line? Does this make sense?’” Kingsbury said. “Once we pull the trigger for a rocket, that rocket is gone, I can’t get that rocket back. That’s when a situation can go from bad to worse or from bad to better.”
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