ABOARD USS BATAAN -- As the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted Exercise Edged Mallet '07 ashore in Kenya March 4-11, the unit received a variety of aviation support from its air combat element, the 'Black Knights' of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced).
Throughout the exercise, the squadron put nearly all of its aviation assets to use for the MEU in a number of support roles on land, at sea, and in the air, as the squadron operated from aboard USS Bataan, USS Shreveport and ashore in Kenya.
The squadron's CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters were heavily involved in transportation of troops from ship to shore and from site to site in country. The 'Phrogs' were also tasked with 24-hour casualty evacuation duty, remaining on constant stand-by to respond to any medical emergencies that might occur during the bilateral exercise between the MEU and the Kenyan military.
Reconnaissance and surveillance flights of the massive training area used by the two nation's forces during the exercise was provided by the unit's AH-1W Super Cobra attack and UH-1N Huey utility helicopters.
The Cobras and Hueys also flew simulated close air-support operations in support of the exercise's ground activities.
Fuel for the aircraft involved in the exercise was supplied on the ground at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), operated by Marines from Marine Air Control Group-28, at the airfield that served as the base for the MEU's aviation operations ashore.
CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters externally lifted more than 10,000 pounds of fuel daily to the FARP, a process that helped make the squadron's activities during Edged Mallet run smoothly, said Capt. Kevin J. Beckwith, an AH-1W pilot and the 'Black Knights' plans officer.
"Not having to come back to the ships to re-fuel enabled us to greatly streamline our operations during the exercise," he explained.
The Sea Knights and Super Stallions additionally lifted ashore hundreds of pallets loaded with supplies to support the exercise and MEU community relations projects at a Kenyan primary school and medical clinic.
The 31 MACG-28 Marines ashore at the airfield did much more than ensure a steady supply of fuel was no problem for the squadron's aircraft, said Capt. Carlo A. Nino, MACG-28 officer-in-charge.
An air traffic control team from the group established command and control of the airspace over the exercise's training areas, managing and directing all military and civilian aircraft that traveled through it.
The group's outstanding support at the airfield was all the more impressive given the condition of the site, which lacked a traffic control tower and any utilities when the unit arrived there March 2, said Nino.
"They really showed their operational strength, especially given the [unimproved] nature of the airfield," he explained. "They were independent and self-sufficient in creating an operational airfield for all air traffic during the exercise."
Another component of MACG-28, the Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) detachment, was tasked with providing security for Marine campsites and several important visitors to the MEU during Edged Mallet.
The exercise additionally gave the squadron's CH-46E crew chiefs and aerial observers an opportunity to achieve high and low light level terrain navigation qualifications during a series of 103 flights over a period of eight days, an impressive feat, said Gunnery Sgt. Daniel C. Schultz, HMM-264 (Rein.) enlisted air-crew staff non-commissioned officer in charge.
"It involved a lot of instruction and training," he explained. "It's not something that normally can be accomplished in just eight days."
The 565 total flight hours the squadron completed during Edged Mallet would not have been possible without the hard work of the unit's aircraft maintainers and mechanics, said Schultz.
Their round-the-clock efforts resulted in the 'Black Knights' having zero flight cancellations due to maintenance issues during the exercise, he added.
In all, the squadron capitalized on a great opportunity to use its vast capabilities during Edged Mallet, all while helping lift the rest of the MEU to its goals for the exercise, said Beckwith.
"The exercise was a great opportunity for us to enact a lot of our capabilities," he explained. "The amount that the MEU accomplished in the time we were [in Kenya] would not have been possible without good aviation support."
The 26th MEU is the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group, which is currently on a routine, scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6.
In addition to HMM-264 (Rein.), the MEU is comprised of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 2/2; and Combat Logistics Battalion-26.
For more on the MEU, including new, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.