PINHEIRO DA CRUZ, PRAIA DA RAPOSA, Portugal -- U.S. Marine landing support specialists with the Landing Support Detachment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 (Reinforced), embarked aboard the USS Arlington (LPD 24), rehearsed sling loading a M105 trailer during a helicopter support team (HST) mission at Pinheiro Da Cruz, Praia Da Raposa Beach, Portugal, Oct. 22, 2015, while participating in Trident Juncture 15.
It was the first time performing an HST on a beach for all the Marines participating in the training, said Sgt. Cameron Voshage, a platoon sergeant with the detachment.
The weight of the load determines the type of sling being used. The total weight loaded during the training was about 2,200 pounds. The slings are rated for 10,000 pounds, 15,000 pounds, 25,000 pounds, and 40,000 pounds. During this training exercise, the team utilized the versatile 25,000 pound sling.
Preparation time varies for setting up the gear to be lifted, said Voshage. “In a nutshell, we find out what the squadron wants to lift and then we get set up for a lift mission. Once the load is prepped, we get the proper linkage count and set up the chains, check over it one more time, get our static wand grounded, and perform the lift.”
Preparing the load for a lift depends on what it is. For example, trailers and vehicles with brakes require the braking mechanism to be locked so that the equipment will not shift in flight. If a load has glass windows or panes, the team places tape on the glass in case it breaks. The tape prevents the glass from falling in the rotor wash of the helicopter and hitting the Marines below.
The cargo can be a multitude of items, including Humvees, M777 howitzers, water bowls, trailers, cargo nets containing items, or just about anything with lift points, said Voshage.
Prior to deploying with the 26th MEU, landing support Marines practiced HST missions carrying 500 gallons of water in a bubble-shaped sack in preparation for possible humanitarian aid missions.
HST missions are not the only types of missions landing support Marines perform. They execute port operations group, beach operations group, rail-road operations group, and evacuation control center missions. All these missions have the same objective, getting Marines, cargo and equipment from one point to another as quickly and safely as possible.
“I like the helicopter support team missions,” said Voshage. “It’s one of the more fun parts of our job; especially now with the scenery in Portugal. I’ve never done one on the beach next to the water, so it was certainly one of the more enjoyable times I’ve performed an HST. We usually lift steel beams at a landing zone near [Camp Lejeune, N.C.], but the foundation of the training is still the same.”
The foundations of HST missions are learned during a one-month course aboard Camp Johnson, N.C. at the Landing Support Specialists School. During the school, the Marines learn the lift and load capabilities for a variety of Marine aircraft. The Marines also learn the safety precautions for hooking a load to a helicopter, how to prepare a load, the four different jobs under the helicopter, and practical application in order to successfully complete an HST mission.
The four different roles of landing support Marines under a helicopter are outside director, inside director, hook-up man, and static man. During the loading, the inside director guides the pilots to hover over the load, while the outside director mimics the hand and arm signals as a back-up in case the inside director cannot be seen. The hook-up man attaches the sling apex to the helicopter’s dangling hooks. The apex is the center point where all the sling legs join together. Simultaneously, the static man grounds out static electricity from the helicopter with a static wand, which is a modified electrical cable attached to a metal rod that is inserted into the ground. Applying a ground to the helicopter reduces static electricity generated by the rotor blades. When the static man hooks the static wand to the dangling hooks, he lessens the chance of the hook-up man being shocked while connecting the sling.
The static electricity generated by a CH-53E Super Stallion’s rotor blades can reach 200,000 volts.
“The day you think you’ve mastered it, is the day you get hurt,” said Lance Cpl. Dustin Mason, a landing support specialist with the detachment. “I’m not necessarily worried while going under the bird, but I do go through a mental checklist and keep my head on a swivel in order to watch out for myself and the guys around me. After completing so many HST missions, it’s become second nature to perform under the helicopter. Everyone did great today, we’ve done enough HST missions that its instinct for everyone. Overall the training was successful, we know now what gear to bring to reduce being blasted by the sand, and we are that much more prepared for any mission we are asked to do. It was a new scenario and now that we’ve accomplished it we will have that much more confidence the next time.”