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Marines Do Heavy Lifting for Coalition in Afghanistan

By Sgt. Frank Magni, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Nov. 8, 2004 – With coalition forces stationed throughout Afghanistan, logistical support is one of the most important factors in supporting the fight against terrorism. While there is more than one way to push the necessary supplies to remote forward operating bases, the Marines of Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 769 used their CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters to keep everything moving.

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Marine Gunnery Sgt. John Ellis, a crew chief with Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 769, scans the ground below for potential threats to his CH-53 Sea Stallion during a flight to Forward Operating Base Asadabad, Afghanistan. The Marines of HMH-769 regularly transferred troops and equipment throughout Afghanistan during their seven-month deployment. Photo by Staff Sgt. Monica Garreau, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

For the last seven months, the unit transported everything from supplies and personnel to mail and vehicles, learning key lessons along the way and remaining an essential asset to the joint arena. The unit was replaced in October by the Marines of Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 462 from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

Based out of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the "Roadhogs" of HMH 769 came to Afghanistan with extensive experience in hot, dry conditions, but still found challenges in Afghanistan's climatic extremes along the way. "Our challenges haven't been the enemy, it has been the conditions," said Marine Lt. Col. Rick Mullen, HMH-769 commanding officer.

Although experienced in desert conditions, the squadron still found obstacles to overcome during their deployment. Rotating through the hottest part of the year, Marine Lt. Col. Jim Barich, HMH- 769 pilot, said engine power remained his crew's main concern with each flight.

Because of high altitude and hot temperatures the Roadhogs encountered on missions, the amount of cargo always remained a main concern for each aircrew. The conditions were sometimes so extreme that the aircraft was only able to carry one-third of its usual cargo capacity.

As a result of the conditions, the Marines of HMH-769 adjusted their techniques of aircraft loading. "Since the difference of as little as 500 pounds can make a difference while in flight, we try to be exact as possible," said Marine Staff Sgt. Robert McIntosh, HMH-769 crew chief.

McIntosh said the unit now weighs everything before loading, instead of the traditional method of estimating. "The margin for error is so small when it comes to our calculations for engine power," said Barich.

Aside from cargo, the unit also tackles the enormous task of transporting coalition members throughout the theater. This service also challenged the Roadhogs' organizational skills. "There have been times that we've landed and the aircraft was mobbed with people trying to get on," said McIntosh.

To better organize the flow of personnel they take from Bagram Air Base to forward operating bases across the country, and the ones they picked up along the way, the unit worked with representatives from each remote location. Instead of working directly with the crew chiefs, personnel coordinated in advance with the representatives on the ground.

One contingent of forces who benefited from the services provided by the Roadhogs was the unit of New Zealanders who run the Bamian Provincial Reconstruction Team.

With Bamian's remote location, transporting supplies on the ground takes the better part of a day, a problem that is solved thanks to the air support of HMH-769, said New Zealand Lance Cpl. Simon Haughey, New Zealand National Support Element. "They are very critical to our mission success at the PRT," said Haughey. "It is one of our fastest methods to get supplies forward."

McIntosh said working with groups like the Kiwis was one of his favorite parts of the mission in Afghanistan. "For us, working with all the different services and (coalition partners) was one of the highlights," said McIntosh. "Working with everybody kind of showed me that other than our aircraft, there really isn't any big difference between (the coalition partners)."

With all the knowledge accumulated by the members of HMH-769, the Marines of Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 462 should depart next year with the same rewarding feeling that Barich described.

"We were out there delivering the right people, with the right supplies, to do the right thing," he said.

(Army Sgt. Frank Magni is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Related Sites:
Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

Click photo for screen-resolution imageNew Zealand Lance Cpl. Simon Haughley backs an all-terrain vehicle to be used in Bamain province into the cargo hold of a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 Sea Stallion. The aircraft is transporting the vehicle on a regular resupply route. Photo by Sgt. Frank Magni, USA  
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