MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Although, the Marines and sailors of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-365 (Reinforced) are more than fully capable of performing their mission on a day-to-day basis, deploying their helicopters from ship, or ship borne operations can become slightly more complicated than on the ground.
During the squadron's approximate week stay aboard the USS Bataan, the crews of four CH-53E Super Stallions, seven CH-46E Sea Knights, four AV-8B+ Harriers, three AH-1W Cobras and one UH-1N Huey were trained and qualified for flight deck operations.
"For the ACE [Aviation Combat Element] this week is centered around getting pilots and air crew qualified aboard ship," said Capt. David M. Reilly, HMM-365 (Rein) scheduling officer. "Our biggest concerns being day and night landings."
Reilly explained the pilots are getting used to landing aboard ship. The process is much different than just setting the helicopter down on the deck, the coordination starts in the control tower. Once the aircraft is cleared for landing, which is usually seconds before the "bird" actually sets down because of heavy traffic on the flight deck, the coordination of bringing it in safely is made by several flight deck personnel.
Capt. Dennis Sampson, HMM-365 naval aviation training and operating procedures standardization officer said, "This training is to make our pilots able to land on the flight deck second nature. We should be able to go to combat and transport grunts without worrying about landing on the flight deck."
He said one of the most helpful opportunities the pilots had aboard ship was to go to the tower and see what the air boss sees when helos are coming in. Sampson said that it gave them a chance to see where the tower's blind spots where and just how much they could see.
Aside from flight deck training the aviators performed a STUFFEX. Personnel brought all 19 aircraft from the flight deck and "stuffed" them in the hangar bay during this exercise, which lasted 12 hours.
They also held simulated fire drills on the flight deck and hangar bay. The "skids," Hueys and Cobras, supported Battalion Landing Team 3/6 with close air support. The aircrew and pilots had classes on their equipment and the pilots had classes on the Rapid Response Planning Process [R2P2]. Sampson explained that the pilots are continually given classes to get them used to the mission planning.
Another aspect of the training was getting the Marines used to ship life, he said. The Marines need to find their place of work and study, and perhaps most important to any Marine in this hectic environment, a place to relax and take advantage of "down time."
"It took a couple of days to get used to everything going on around you and get used to the ship," said Lance Cpl. Sterling K. Copeland, HMM-365 (Rein) hydraulics mechanic. "But after awhile you just roll with it."
Copeland said he has to go through more paperwork on the ship to get something done than he did at MCAS New River.
Cpl. Mark K. Ulsh, HMM-365 crew chief, agreed that the process of checking out tools, and other items is more complicated aboard ship. However, he said that the Marines understand it is for a reason, "Because of the limited amount of space and the high operations tempo, the Navy has a lot more rules for the sake of safety."
Ulsh added that it is commonly known the flight deck of a ship is one of the most hazardous places to work, to the point that the deck workers receive hazard pay.
"There aren't too many "quals" for me this week since I'm in a squadron that deploys off ships," said Aviation Machinists Mate 3rd Class Andrew E. Ward, Helicopter Combat Support Squadron-6 rescue swimmer.
However, Ward brings some light to the subject explaining that the Navy's ground landings are probably closer to deck landings than the Marine Corps'. Things like terms and procedures for ground and deck are more similar on the Navy-side than the Marine-side.
In the event that anything goes wrong, Ward will be there to protect lives. But if the Marines of HMM-365 (Rein) continue to push safety and training as they have in the past, Ward's skills will be strictly precautionary.