CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 Reinforced, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Marines and sailors with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th MEU, conducted a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel mission at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Oct. 17.
“Our simulated TRAP mission was to recover a downed (unmanned aerial vehicle) in the vicinity of Landing Zone Canary,“ said Major Ivan L. Bejarano, a Phoenix, Ariz., native, and MV-22B Osprey pilot with VMM-266. “We inserted a 35-Marine element to recover the UAV and bring the parts back. For our escorts, we had two AH-1W Super Cobras in support. The Cobras’ mission was to fly overhead and make sure there was no enemy around the insert for the troop insertion. Once the escorts deemed the area safe, we flew down and dropped the troops off.”
When the need for this type of mission is verified, the ground combat element and aviation combat element are capable of planning and conducting the mission – fast.
“Once we get notification that we have to launch a TRAP, the aviation element and ground assets have 120 minutes to launch the mission,” said Bejarano. “So once we have notification, the [intelligence section] gives us a brief and the ground element gets a brief, and then we get together and do a final coordination before the insert.”
Bejarano said VMM-266 conducted a real-life scenario TRAP mission to recover an Air Force pilot from a downed aircraft in Libya on their last deployment with the 26th MEU in March 2011.
“A TRAP mission can happen at anytime,” said Lance Cpl. Alejandro Perez, a Struthers, Ohio, native and VMM-266 crew chief. “An asset can go down at anytime, so we need to always be on the ready. The MEU is a quick reaction force so we must always be prepared for anything to happen.”
Crew chiefs aboard military aircraft are enlisted personnel and are an invaluable tool for the pilots.
“They need to know what is expected of them,” said Perez. “Crew chiefs need to know what they have in the aircraft and what their mindset needs to be. When going into a hot zone, where you have no idea what is going on, you are going to be confused and playing catch up the whole time, which is not helpful to the crew. A crew chief needs their head in the game and know exactly what to look for and what to do.”
Coordinating and executing missions with multiple elements can add a new level of training experience mock exercises cannot provide.
“Whenever you carry those troops, you are learning how they act and how they respond. You get experience getting those guys in the aircraft and making sure they get strapped in their seat. In a notional mission, all you need to worry about is yourself. With training like this, you have to have your troops in mind. You have to make sure you keep them informed on where you are or how long it will be until you hit the LZ,” Perez said.
In this particular flight, communication and standard operating procedures between the air and ground was crucial. Perez said when the aircraft landed for the troops’ egress and they started to load up, the Osprey started sinking in a mud pit. Without hesitation the crew chiefs signaled to the ground element they needed to lift off. The remaining Marines who had not yet boarded immediately knew to run and set up security while awaiting the aircraft to find a more suitable spot to land.
Bejarano attributed the success of this type of training, as well as all other aviation mission sets, to the aid of crew chiefs.
“Without crew chiefs, we would not be able to complete the mission in our aircraft,” said Bejarano. “They provide us cover with their weapons and they are the ones primarily responsible to get the Marines in and out of the aircraft to execute the assault or support the mission.”
This training is part of the 26th MEU’s pre-deployment training. The 26th MEU is slated to deploy in 2013.