CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The sound of the helicopter’s rotor blades echoed over the tree canopy announcing the aircraft’s arrival. The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion churned hard against the evening’s humid air and raised a gust of wind and debris over Training Landing Zone Phoenix as it prepared to lift its simulated cargo July 24.
The seven Marines on the ground make up a Helicopter Support Team from Combat Logistics Battalion 8, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. Another storm was descending upon Holly Ridge, N.C., so they needed to move quickly.
This training represented an important part of the unit’s forward deployed capabilities: supplying troops in Afghanistan with transportable goods regardless of weather conditions.
“It’s extremely vital,” said Sgt. Kip Buedel, a landing support specialist with the battalion. “Where I was [in Afghanistan], we had to make sure these things happened no matter what the weather was or what was going on in the outlying areas.”
The wind from the rotor blades created a rippling sea in the field of grass and washed over Cpl. Nash Helms, the team leader. He braced himself against the gust of wind and stood ready to grasp the ropes used to secure the cargo to the helicopter.
“When the bird first comes towards you, you feel that gust of wind, and it’s a shock to your system,” said Helms. “You’re getting prepared. Then all of a sudden it’s calm, and you’re sitting underneath the bird.”
The helicopter’s body shielded members of the team as they attached a thick metal beam to the aircraft to simulate the weight and bulk of military cargo. Members of the team linked ropes from the beam to the aircraft. Helms cautiously guided the ropes through the process to prevent them from entangling the helicopter and loading crew.
Strong wind and debris are not the only hazards the crew trains to defeat. The Super Stallion is capable of producing up to 200,000 volts of static electricity and can be fatal, said Helms. That is why the team trains to properly ground the aircraft. A “static” man tames the current with a grounding pole as the rest of the team guides the aircraft and attaches the cargo.
The lifting capability of the Super Stallion not only generates raw electrical power, but its external load-bearing ability bridges many of the logistical challenges Marines face in the field.
“A lot of this is very important to some of the more remote outposts where they can’t normally truck goods in on the roads,” said Buedel. Super Stallions offer swift transport solutions for medical supplies, food, ammunition and vital equipment such as vehicles, which cannot be transported inside the helicopters.
The helicopter hoisted their first set of simulated supplies and tilted forward. Sand pecked the exposed areas of the team’s skin as the wash from the departing aircraft once more engulfed the Marines.
Dark clouds crept over the clearing, and the Super Stallion swung its cargo above the woods, turned and headed back onto the field where the team detached the load and prepared to start again.
Precision and coordination come with time and repetition. Buedel, who performed similar operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, concluded by saying each flight at TLZ Phoenix was an opportunity to sharpen the team’s performance.