MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marines of the composite squadron that forms Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 Reinforced have trained hard to ready themselves for their approaching deployment as the Aviation Combat Element of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Since June 23rd, when the 26th MEU was officially activated and began training with all its Major Subordinate Elements, the ACE has worked to incorporate its own different elements into the squadron.
HMM-264 (Rein.) started out with its own core aircraft component of CH-46E Sea Knight medium-lift helicopters. Then it became a composite, or reinforced, squadron with the addition of CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, and UH-1N Huey utility helicopters. The ACE also integrated a fast attack capability from its six AV-8B Harrier IIs.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert D. Curtis, executive officer of HMM-264 (Rein.), said the augmentations of other aircraft and personnel, such as a Marine Wing Support Squadron detachment, give the squadron more capabilities both in the air and on the deck than the core CH-46E squadron.
"[HMM-264 (Rein.)] has attack assets, heavy lift capabilities, and an increased intermediate level maintenance capability," he said.
Curtis also said other additions, which enhance the expeditionary nature of the ACE, are the Marine Air Control Group, which includes the Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD ) detachment.
The different aviation elements had an informal relationship prior to going composite, Curtis said, but then began the vigorous training needed to encompass the full MEU mission set.
The lengthy list of possible missions includes, but is not limited to, mass casualty evacuations, noncombatant evacuation operations, a full range of assault support missions, escort missions, reconnaissance, anti-air, limited electronic warfare, re-supply missions and insertion and extraction of troop components ranging in size from small, four-man teams to entire companies.
Curtis said the squadron has to perform integrated training with the MEU instead of traditional, squadron-specific training to prepare for the deployment and its various missions.
Many of the missions require specialized skills, such as carrier deck landings or external load lifting, that require much practice, and sometimes require evaluations or qualifications, both in day and nighttime environments.
"The training cycle readies pilots for different level jobs," Curtis said. "They will get all their qualifying done, and by the end, everyone will be day and night certified."
Curtis also said the training allows the squadrons to develop their instructor base for the next deployment.
"Junior pilots are learning from the other pilots the skills they need for the next go round, where they will be the ones teaching a new set of pilots," he said.
Curtis made clear the ultimate purpose for all the training.
"In doing all of this training you are preparing for combat," he said.
The 26th MEU is now roughly two-thirds through the six-month pre-deployment training cycle designed to form the different elements of the MEU and its MSEs into a cohesive, rapid-reaction force. The 26th MEU is scheduled to deploy in early 2007 in support of the Global War on Terror.
For more information on the 26th MEU, visit www.26meu.usmc.mil/.