Dragons make Balikatan ’08 successful while honing proficiency

8 Mar 2008 | Lance Cpl. Jason Spinella

The Marines and Sailors of the Medium Marine Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced) supported the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in successfully completing Exercise Balikatan 2008(BK ’08), Feb.18 to March 3.

"Our objective was to support the training of the ground combat element and provide transportation for supplies with air support,” said Captain Chris Phillips, a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter pilot with HMM-265.

 With the various operations and projects needing air support during BK ’08, the Dragons capabilities proved to play an essential role in mission accomplishment.   

“With the CH-53’s being able to transport large cargo and weight, we were able to move supplies to the different humanitarian aid sites throughout the area of operation,” explained Phillips, a Swansboro, N.C. native. “We were also able to contribute to the mission by providing capabilities for the Ground Combat Element to conduct fast roping and parachute operations.”

According to Phillips, executing Parachute Operations was a first for many of the pilots. The exercise also allowed a chance for some the pilots to conduct carrier qualifications at night.

“It was a great way to increase proficiency during operations and really raised the bar for the unit as a whole,” said Phillips.

The Dragons air power capabilities are as diverse as the arsenal of aircraft they possess.

For First Lieutenant Keith Gale, an AH-IW Super Cobra helicopter pilot, shipping cargo was not apart of his objective.

“The Cobras conducted multiple escort missions and assisted the AV-8B Harriers in engaging targets with ordnance during training,” added Gale, a native of Burlington, Iowa. “The Cobras also worked with the CH-53E Tactical Bulk Fuel Dispensing System(TBFBS) to demonstrate a long range raid capability while firing ordnance.”

The pilots and crewmembers of HMM-265 provided over 277 flight hours while traveling across the Philippine region.

“The Filipino special guests really enjoyed riding in the Huey helicopters,” said Sergeant Brandon Deford, a UH-IN Huey helicopter crew chief instructor with HMM-265. “While they enjoyed riding in our aircraft, I enjoyed learning about their culture.”

For many of the Marines and Sailors of HMM-265, BK ’08 not only offered opportunities to train, but experience a new way of life and see how the Armed Forces of the Philippines operate.

 “We were able to work side by side and see how the Philippine Air Force worked on their Huey’s,” added Deford, an Ekalaka, Mont. native. “It gave us the chance to exchange skills and techniques with the Filipino aviators.”

For Phillips, the Philippine environment provided a perfect setting for training and sight seeing.

“The air space was great for training, and the country below was absolutely beautiful,” explained Phillips. “The way the landscape went from dense jungle directly to beach was just awesome.”

 According to Lance Corporal Kevin Inca, a maintenance management specialist with the Dragons, the interaction with the Filipino children and AFP was an experience he will never forget.

“They were very welcoming, caring and open people,” added Inca, a Coral Springs, Fla.  native. “It was great interacting with the children, just seeing them smile and making them happy.”

Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Salmon, the Commanding Officer of HMM-265 (Reinforced) summed up the experience.

“Balikatan has been a great opportunity for our reinforced squadron to integrate its new detachments and function as the 31st MEU air combat element.” Added Salmon, a native of Port Morris, N.J. “We conducted Assault Support, Offensive Air Support, Command and Control training while supporting VIP movements and community relations projects.”

The Dragons are completing their second year and fifth deployment as the 31st MEU ACE. The squadron’s ship and MEU experience has significantly contributed to MEU operations in seven different countries during various exercises much like BK ’08.

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31st Marine Expeditionary Unit