MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – No landing zone, no problem for a group of Marines and sailors who just earned the title: Helicopter Rope Suspension Techniques masters.
During a recent 10-day course, 18 Marines and sailors spent countless hours learning the skills needed to slide down ropes out of helicopters and off rappel towers both day and night at Landing Zone Vulture, which is located on the Stone Bay training area of the base, July 25 to Aug. 5.
Marines conduct HRST operations from helicopters as a way to insert and extract in environments where actually landing a helicopter is not an option, such as mountainous terrain, urban and jungle environments, according to Capt. Robert Long, the officer-in-charge of the Expeditionary Operations Branch, Special Operations Training Group, II Marine Expeditionary Headquarters Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Helicopter Rope Suspension Techniques Masters are essential to units because any operation requires a minimum of two masters to perform HRST. Additionally, they have the responsibility to teach members of their units HRST, and ensure Marines performing HRST operations are capable.
The two-week course, run by SOTG, requires service members attain a complete mastery of all things HRST related: rappelling, fast roping and special purpose insertion/extraction rigging.
In the first week, the students rappelled and fast roped off a tower numerous times to develop confidence and technical expertise, according to Staff Sgt. Joshua Isberner, the HRST lead instructor.
“I have never done this before,” said Sgt. Christopher Aahus, a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “Jumping off the towers and learning how to do all the systems and knots, definitely increases your confidence.”
At the conclusion of the first week, the Marines had to demonstrate mastery of 12 knots and pass a written exam.
“They learn all the (standard operating procedures), little movements, hand and arm signals, and ways to tension the ropes, before we test them,” Long said. “They have to demonstrate they have (mastered all of) that before we let them do it live.”
During the second week, the students conducted rappelling, fast roping and SPIE rigging operations as they would in a real-world situation, while being evaluated by the course instructors. Each student preformed the role of HRST Master, insuring all knots and rigs were secure before signaling for the Marines to leap out of the helicopters.
“(The instructors) really make sure you know your stuff before you step off,” said Sgt. Bill Aiello, a reconnaissance Marine with First platoon, Company C, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. “They are not going to let you go up there if you don’t know what you are doing.”
The students also trained on a number of different helicopters to become certified to perform operations on whatever aircraft may be available or required.
The helicopters they trained on included: the MV-22 Osprey, UH-1N Huey, CH-53E Super Stallion and H-60 helicopters.
The students primarily consisted of Marines and sailors from units scheduled to attach to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in September.
“I feel really confident I’ll be able to teach my guys back at the unit,” Aiello said. “We’ve become subject matter experts on it.”