Combined efforts make target replacement a success

8 Jan 2004 | Cpl. Kristin S. Gambrell

Live-fire ranges here received a face-lift of sorts recently due to the combined efforts of Marines, sailors and civilians who integrated the placement of new targets with combat related training.

The placing of the 10 targets, 23,000-pound M-113 armored personnel carriers, required personnel in the air, on land and sea.

David W. Lynch, operations chief, Training Resources Management Division here, coordinated the movement of the new targets, which required the skills and efforts of base personnel including pilots, sailors, explosive ordnance disposal and helicopter support teams.

"Each movement made by everyone is crucial to the operation," Lynch said. The significance of the exercise was to place the targets in a timely manner, while maintaining the highest level of operational risk management, he said.

One of the more dangerous jobs of the movement fell on the EOD team who was responsible for ensuring the impact areas and the old targets were clear of any explosives. They also escorted the Helicopter Support Team inside the impact areas, so they could retrieve the rigging from the newly placed targets, without setting off any live rounds that may be out there.

The Navy Boat Crew provided security on the New River to keep the waterways clear of fishermen and boaters while the M-113s were being flown over by pilots flying CH-53E assigned to Marine Helicopter Training Squadron-302 from Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.

"If we wouldn't have used the CH-53, (placing the targets) would have taken nearly two weeks," Lynch explained. 

The impact areas are mostly swamp, making it difficult to maneuver vehicles through, and there may be live rounds on the ground.

The primary mission of the CH-53E is heavy lift; unfortunately, the opportunity to do "heavy lift," which is defined as 16,000 pounds and above, does not present itself often enough, said Lt. Col. William E. Wetzelberger, commanding officer, HMT-302. 

"We routinely train with a 12,000 pound block, so many of the pilots here have never been challenged with a real 'heavy lift.'  Lifting heavier loads requires more in-depth preflight planning, fuel management and crew coordination," said Wetzelberger. 

The CH-53E community is somewhat spoiled by excess power during routine exercises, so this presented a perfect opportunity to push the pilots and equipment to their full potential, he explained. Conducting heavy lift puts the aircraft very close to the power required and power available limits, which forces the pilots to demonstrate solid piloting skills and preflight planning to be successful, he continued.

"During this evolution we were able to cycle (through) four pilots. All four of these pilots now have a greater appreciation for the preflight planning, fuel management and crew coordination required during heavy lift operations," Wetzelberger said.  "Additionally these pilots now have a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the CH-53E, and have gained some very valuable experience, which they can pass on to our younger pilots."

Although much of the work seems to come from the sky, Wetzelberger said the teamwork on the ground is just as important.

An HST is formed for all helicopter-borne operations, said Maj. Michael D. Lepson, commanding officer, Beach and Terminal Operations Company, 2nd Transportation Support Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group.  Their mission is to facilitate the landing and movement of helicopter-borne forces, equipment, and supplies to and within a landing zone. 

For the M-113 placements, a Marine in the landing zone communicated with the crew in the helicopter to get the CH-53E lowered over top of the target.

Other HST members were positioned on top of the M-113 as the five-bladed helicopter hovered directly over them.  First these Marines connected a cable to the hovering aircraft to ground the 40,000 volts of static electricity the aircraft produces during flight.  Once grounded the M-113 was tethered below the CH-53E.

"Teamwork is crucial to a safe and effective HST. Every team member is responsible for an assigned task," explained Lepson.  "If one Marine fails in their responsibility, the mission may fail."

The Baltimore, native said that every Marine must not only know and carryout their responsibilities, but trust that their fellow Marines will execute their assigned tasks as well. The success of the mission is dependent on how well the team or small unit executes.  This level of coordination and teamwork requires a significant amount of small unit leadership, technical knowledge and training.

"A successful exercise is when the mission is complete and no one gets hurt," said Lynch, a retired Marine.

Lepson said there is a significant amount of risk when working in close proximity to aircraft and in a typical operation Marines face the danger of an aircraft mishap, static discharge, flying debris, the elements and the load itself.  

He also explained that protective equipment, planning, and coordination with the pilots and various other training all mitigates that risk. 

The Marines wear protective vests, helmets, goggles, and in a dusty environment, a face scarves.  

Prior to the lift, rehearsals were conducted while communication checks and coordination with the aircraft were done.  The movement and accountability of personnel in the landing zone was constantly tracked, said Lepson.

He said the goal of training is to prepare Marines to accomplish their assigned mission in combat, to develop their skills and gain confidence. With the targets placed, Lepson commented on the training results. 

"This was a challenging mission that helped my Marines develop the confidence and skills they require," said Lepson.