CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait --
Approximately 75 Marines with six AH-1W Super Cobra and two UH-1N Huey helicopters from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Air Combat Element cross-decked from the USS Iwo Jima to the USS San Antonio, Nov. 8-13, 2008. The mission specifically practiced the use of non-wheeled aircraft, or "skids," on the new ship, like the Huey and Cobra helicopters.
Every MEU is configured to have LPD (landing platform dock) class ships and LHD (landing helicopter dock) class ships and it is not uncommon for those ships to be assigned separate tasks, known as split operations.
“There’s always the possibility we might need to send the LPD off on its own to go do something, its own mission,” said Maj. Harald Aagaard, assistant operations officer for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264. “That’s part of the flexibility of the MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) and the ESG (Expeditionary Strike Group), is being able to do split operations, two different things at the same time.”
Despite the relative normalcy, this had never been tested during a deployment on the new San Antonio class of ships, “So before we go do it for real, we wanted to have a trial run at it,” he said.
“The San Antonio is the first of the LPD-17 class and we did a fairly successful (Operational Evaluation) back in March, where we stationed some guys onboard for a little bit and worked some of the systems, but since then … we haven’t had the chance to go back,” Aagaard said.
The San Antonio represents a new class of ship, so it was critical for the Marines to thoroughly test every moving part.
“For example … it allows us to … see how many helicopters we can fit in the hangar,” he said. “The old LPDs you could only fit, I think, two helicopters in the hangar, now we can fit four Cobras in the hangar.”
The attitudes of the Marines and sailors who live and work aboard the San Antonio is one of unity.
“Really the best part about (the ship) was the crew,” Aagaard said. “They were really happy to see us. It sounded like the captain loves having helicopters on board.”
Overall Aagaard said the exercise was very successful and that he definitely saw what a great ship the San Antonio is and that he looks forward to going back there again.
The 26th MEU deployed in August, 2008, aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group in support of the Global War on Terror and is currently in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, conducting sustainment training.