Marines, sailors prepare for humanitarian assistance operations aboard USS Essex

13 May 2008 | Lance Cpl. Ryan Wicks

Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted helicopter suspension training aboard the forward deployed USS Essex (LHD 2), May 13, to prepare for possible humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts to those affected by Cyclone Nargis.

The Marines practiced carrying and dropping off relief supplies aboard the forward deployed Essex utilizing a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter to transport the loads.

The purpose of the training was to qualify the pilots in the external lift capability via the hook system, according to 2nd Lt. Colin Graham, the landing support officer in charge with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU.

“Helicopter suspension training allows us to get under the bird and hook up the cargo to the helicopter,” said Graham. “With assistance from the Burmese people possibly on the horizon, implementing HSTs are more likely and it’s something we have to become more efficient with in order to ensure supplies safely get to who needs them."

While the training proved successful for the Marines, operations on ship are executed differently from on land, according to Graham.

“Usually, on land, the helicopter will drop a pendulum and a hook about 8 feet beneath the bird and we will go up there with a static discharge wand and tap the hook which discharges the electricity and then hook the load on. Because of the winds, choppy seas and safety rules affect training procedures,” Graham said.

With this, Graham explained that they use a tool called a “q-tip” to hook the loads onto the helicopter.

“My guys will stand under the bird holding the q-tip up as it approaches. Inside the bird, a member of the crew will reach down through an opening in the belly of the helicopter and grab the q-tip, hooking it up to the bird for lift,” Graham said.

The helicopter suspension training is very important due to the possible upcoming humanitarian assistance disaster relief missions.

“This training is very significant because it provides us a means of helping the people in need by being able to drop off supplies where the landing zone might be to small or unfeasible for the helicopter to land,” said Capt. Daeyong Ku, a CH-46E pilot with HMM-265, 31st MEU. “They also might not have any roads or support systems in the disaster area so this type of operation is of the utmost importance.”

The Essex ARG along with the 31st MEU is currently off the coast of Burma poised to support potential humanitarian assistance tasking in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

Essex is the lead ship of the forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit