JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. - A CH-53 Super Stallion kicks up immense amounts of sand, dirt, rocks and other debris as it lands on range Landing Zone 14 here. It creates a sand-storm-like cloud that blinds anyone nearby looking toward the landing site. Marines exit through the tail of the stallion and within a few moments are formed up at the tree line providing security and assessing the area.
Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 service members performed a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel rehearsal exercise April 30, 2013, at the Dix ranges here.
The exercise is one of several in HMH-772’s predeployment certification requirements to deploy to Okinawa. The Marines of HMH-772 will also perform an aerial-delivery exercise with the 818th Global Mobility Squadron and a raid mission with U.S. Air Force Air Advisor Academy students playing the role of opposing forces before deployment.
The mission-essential tasks the Marines must accomplish before deployment are expeditionary operations, assault transport, aerial delivery, aerial evacuation and TRAP.
Marines, in a deployed environment, will be expected to recover service members of all branches, making the Airmen, Soldiers and Sailor participants a necessity.
The HMLA-773 Marines flew close air support for the TRAP mission. Marine Aircraft Group 49 corpsmen, Army flight medics and Marine Wing Support Squadron 472 personnel augmented the HMH-772 Marines to comprise the ground forces during the mission. Two Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists here played the role of isolated personnel.
“The beginning always seems to be the most challenging part of the mission,” said Marine Capt. Nathan Werve, HMH-772 pilot. “No plan survives first contact.”
Escort aircraft, HMLA-773’s AH-1 Super Cobras, approached the objective area first to authenticate the survivors on the ground. HMH-772 pilots then landed the CH-53 Super Stallions to provide assault support with ground forces.
“HMH-772 doesn’t typically perform TRAP exercises to this scale,” said Werve. “We have never asked for assistance from as many outside supporting agencies as we did for this exercise.”
Marines playing the role of opposing forces were waiting at the landing zone, unbeknownst to the assault support forces, brandishing weapons. Ground-force Marines handled the opposing forces then used tracking skills, radio communication and night-vision equipment to locate and authenticate the isolated personnel who were approximately 300 yards from the LZ before bringing them back to the LZ for extraction by the super stallions.
The supporting Super Cobras continuously ran strafe runs and flew around the area providing close-air support.
The stallions took off into the moonless, star-filled sky. Taking off created an even more vast cloud of dust and debris than they had when landing.
Select personnel gathered back at the MAG-49 building after the exercise to hold a debrief during which they discussed the million strengths and weaknesses in an open-forum fashion. The SERE specialists provided constructive feedback based on their perspectives of the exercise.
The Marines did an outstanding job with initial and continuous authentication, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Josh Schmitz, 305th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist. SERE specialists teach their aircrew to do exactly as they’re told by rescue and the Marines did a great job directing orders.