CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa (July 25, 2008) --
Combat Logistics Battalion 31 and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265, both currently attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, hooked up at Landing Zone Swallow July 15-16 to conduct helicopter support team training.
The training helps CLB-31's landing support platoon Marines and the squadron's CH-46E Sea Knight aircrews hone the skills needed to transport cargo externally from a helicopter to the front lines of combat or to disaster stricken areas during humanitarian assistance operations.
"It's quicker to hook up a load on the external side of the house rather then internal, because not all things fit in the inside (the helicopter), and sometimes you have passengers on the inside too," said Sgt. Michael Krzystofczyk, landing support detachment chief with CLB-31.
Though the Marines practiced hooking up large tires and mock cargo crates during the training, loads typically transported externally consist of large pallets of water, food and ammunition, Krzystofczyk said.
To accomplish the lift, the support Marines package the cargo in a net or a sling, depending on its size and shape, to secure it for transport and then stage it in the landing zone, he said.
As the helicopter reaches the zone, a large hook is deployed from beneath the aircraft and the support team moves in to make the connection.
One team member uses a static rod to ground the static electricity built up on the hook so the other team members can attach the load. Once the load is successfully connected, the pilot receives hand signals showing the area is clear to extract the cargo.
Safety is paramount for the Marines conducting the training, Krzystofczyk said. The single most important tool used by the Marines is the static rod. It is used to attach the hook to a wire connected to a metal rod in the ground. The process ensures potentially fatal static electricity is transferred from the hook, making it safe to handle.
"You could get static electricity running through your body very easily if the hook is not properly grounded out," he said.
Every HST Marine receives the same training for each part of the process. Each Marine gets experience acting as the "staticman," preparing and hooking up the cargo and directing air traffic, Krzystofczyk said.
"My Marines are properly trained and devoted to the frontlines, and uphold their job with ease and confidence," Krzystofczyk said.
Apart from training to become proficient at external loads, the landing support Marines also enjoyed the helicopter ride to the training area.
"There's two parts to the training I like," said Cpl. Garret Heitshusen, a landing support specialist with CLB-31. "One is getting to the training, and two is doing the training,"
Heitshusen said for the Marines who participated, the training helped them become faster and more efficient at handling external loads and left them feeling more confident in their abilities.
"In the event we had to net load or sling load, I believe with full faith that our Marines could do that," Heitshusen said.