PATROL BASE WOLFPACK, Helmand province, Afghanistan -- From this remote desert outpost just miles from the Pakistani border, two Marine Corps attack helicopters were heard before they were seen.
“Four miles out,” shouted Capt. Orion Jones over the growing percussion of their blades. Jones’ Marines emptied out of their waiting heavy-lift helicopter, running with a fuel hose in tow toward a nearby landing pad.
The AH-1W Super Cobras were soon seen on the horizon speeding toward the outpost.
Marines with Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 conducted rapid ground refueling of the smaller attack helicopters from a CH-53D Sea Stallion, Aug. 17.
Though a hallmark of Marine Corps aviation since the 1960s, this marked the first time the CH-53D had been used to rapidly refuel helicopters in a combat environment, said Jones, a Sea Stallion pilot who served as the officer in charge of the forward arming and refueling point.
The Super Cobras came to the ground in a cloud of dust. Marines affixed the hose, giving the helicopters fuel from the Sea Stallion’s own tanks.
As heavy lift helicopters, Sea Stallions fill a variety of missions for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). The Marines of HMH-463 seemed to relish the chance to add rapid ground refueling to an already formidable list of capabilities that include heavy-lifting, aerial resupply, and troop movement.
“It’s a pretty simple system and it’s something we train to do,” said Sgt. Benjamin R. Schlicht, crew chief with HMH-463 and native of La Crescent, Minn. “Essentially, we use the same mechanism we use to dump fuel, but now we divert it into the hose for refueling. We can carry an awful lot of fuel.”
Patrol Base Wolfpack marked the southernmost point in Afghanistan the CH-53 D Sea Stallions had ever traveled, according to Staff Sgt. James H. Crimmins, a maintenance chief and aerial observer with HMH-463, and a native of Sullivan, Mo.
“This aircraft has performed amazingly in every conflict since Vietnam, and Afghanistan is no exception,” Crimmins said.
Jones explained the many advantages of the refueling system.
“It’s all about projecting firepower,” Jones said. “We’re putting [the attack helicopters] in a position to better conduct deep airstrikes and deep air support. Additionally, by not having to set up a permanent refueling point, we don’t have to drive trucks and risk roadside bombs, and we can get down here quickly.”
In just a few minutes, the attack helicopters were back in the sky.
“At the end of the day, what we want to do is extend the reach of the Marine air-ground task force and help the people here build a safe country,” Jones said.