MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. - Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 flew from Cherry Point to an airport on the outskirts of Wilmington, N.C., and back in a training exercise designed to familiarize themselves with conducting assaults over long distances Jan. 24.
During the assault transport, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 refueled HMH-366 helicopters with KC-130J Hercules aircraft. HMH-366, known as the Hammerheads, also landed on a mock amphibious assault ship, picked up a fictional assault package of 40 infantry Marines, and delivered it to a hostile facility where Marines disembarked and attacked.
The squadron put effort into making the mission as realistic as possible, including a notional scenario featuring a hostile group preparing to invade a friendly country, with the raid disrupting the enemy’s preparations.
Capt. Derrick F. Breville, a pilot training officer with HMH-366, said the training begins in the planning stage where a situation is created detailing the makeup of friendly forces, capabilities of hostile forces, and the disposition of all the forces in the region.
“They have to tactically assess the objective area,” said Breville. “It teaches them to make decisions beforehand in planning, and how to dynamically make decisions beforehand in flight.”
Breville said the focus of the training was the long-range aspect, meaning coordinating with the refueling squadron to make sure everyone made it to the objective with the necessary resources.
After refueling, the Hammerheads practice inserting troops into the “combat zone”, which provided valuable training to the helicopter crews. During the raid, crew members manned the guns to protect the helicopters from hostile fire.
Sgt. Timothy Gayson, a weapons and tactics crew chief instructor with the squadron, said the training helps develop the right mindset for combat missions.
“The training is very important,” said Gayson. “If we don’t train for our mission in Afghanistan, it’s not going to get done. If we don’t train the guys to get into the mindset, the momentum or the rhythm of doing what they need to do, then they’re going to be drawing a blank and they can get hurt or killed.”
VMGR-252 also benefited from the joint training exercise by practicing several of its own mission-essential tasks.
“We have low-altitude flying, we have formation flying, and then we have aerial refueling all going on at one time, so the coordination involved in executing that is a little more intense than a normal flight,” said Capt. Richard J. Jacobs, a pilot with the squadron.
Jacobs said the training value comes from practicing a realistic mission as a section.
Both squadrons are required to maintain the skills necessary to refuel at low altitudes. Adding to the challenge of refueling were the weather conditions. The daytime refueling took place at 1,000 feet instead of the normal 5,000 feet.
Breville said air becomes more volatile at lower altitudes and the winds were intense that day, resulting in all the aircraft and fuel lines buffeting about in the wind as the helicopters attempted to plug refueling probes into the lines.
Despite the difficulty, pilots and crew from both squadrons learned from their respective experiences.
“We work hard to provide realistic training for anyone who’s under instruction in our squadron,” said Breville. “Any time we have the ability to not play make believe and actually work with other agencies, it makes the evolution that much better. I think that us getting support from VMGR-252 to do this evolution, specifically providing those two tankers, really made this a pretty big evolution for us.”