Black Knights fire it up before deployment

12 Feb 2003 | Sgt. Roman Yurek

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced), the "Black Knights," conducted its first squadron-wide integrated live-fire training evolution of the pre-deployment training program Feb. 10-14 at several landing zones aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The training was designed to reinforce the Marines' and Sailors' basic combat aviation skills, explained Capt. Mark Diss, a weapons and tactics instructor for the Black Knights.

The training incorporated squadron organic assets, including four CH-46D "Sea Knights," two CH-53E "Super Stallions," two AH-1W "Super Cobras," two UH-1N "Hueys" and two AV-8B Harriers in a variety of environments including day, night and the most tactically difficult of all environments, the nuclear, biological and chemical battlefield.

Also integrated into the training were four U.S. Air Force F-16 "Falcons," four U.S. Air Force F-15 "Eagles," four U.S. Air Force A-10 "Thunderbolt II's," four U.S. Navy F-14 "Tomcats" and two U.S. Navy F-18 "Hornets."  With the inclusion of so many joint aviation assets, the squadron's aircrews gained a healthy appreciation for the challenges they may face during deployment operating in a joint or coalition environment.

"This training prepares us for operations we may face during our deployment," expalined Diss.  "It allows us to learn how other services think and plan, as well as allowing other services to learn how we operate."

With the arrival of each new training day, the squadron and its temporary joint attachments were given a new mission and a new objective that always incorporated a significant surface-based anti-air threat.  This is where the pilots' aviation skills and the aircrews' marksmanship were put to the test.

While many of the Marines in the squadron had shot the M2 .50 caliber machine gun from the air before, most had not done so during a simulated combat operation, explained Cpl. Jason Dennis, a Sea Knight crew chief.

"Usually our firing drills are like going to the rifle range," said Dennis.  "It's more controlled and you are concerned with getting rounds on target.  This training is more challenging because the aircraft is moving while we fire, and we could be trying to shoot a moving target.  This training is much more real world."

Dennis is also a qualified weapons and tactics instructor, which was a great benefit for his aerial observer, Lance Cpl. Kenneth Lyons.

Lyons had only shot from the air twice before and said that he was still learning how to be more proficient.  During the last daytime shoot, Dennis allowed Lyons to work on his marksmanship by giving him the majority of the 200 rounds allotted for their aircraft.  Besides the training value, Lyons had additional motivation to improve his aerial marksmanship.

"I am very excited about this training," Lyons said.  "It moves me that much closer to receiving my air crew wings."

Another challenge presented to the Marines was the proximity of the helicopters to one another.  With the helicopters flying so close together, both Marines reiterated the importance of precision shooting and how this experience will improve their abilities to do this again when it could count.

After two days of daytime shooting, the squadron began live night fire training.  It was during the second night operation where the threat of nuclear, biological or chemical contamination was introduced to the scenario.  The pilots and aircrews had to don their NBC protective suits in order to successfully accomplish their already complex mission.

As the weeklong training package concluded, the squadron emerged even more ready for its deployment in early March as the Aviation Combat Element for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).

To follow the Marines and Sailors of HMM-264 (Rein.) and the 26th MEU (SOC) during their upcoming deployment, visit them on the web at http://www.26meu.usmc.mil.