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Dropping in Marine style

12 Jun 2009 | Lance Cp. Michael Bianco

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, reacquainted themselves with Helicopter Rope Suspension Training (HRST) by participating in Special Patrol Insertion and Extraction (SPIE) rigging and fast roping at landing zones Dodo and Hansen, June 2-3.

During SPIE rigging, MEU Marines served as students for counterparts from various units island-wide enrolled in the HRST Master Course taught by instructors of III Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group.

For SPIE rigging operations, Marines in sticks of five are carried as an external load by a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter. Service members wear harnesses hooked to carabiners attached to a 120-foot rope and dangle between 250 to 1,000 feet above ground. As an extra precaution, participants also wear a safety line which wraps around their body and is secured by a bowline knot. 

According to Cpl. Jacob Simmerman, a rifleman with BLT 3/5, although SPIE rigging involves Marines being suspended from a helicopter, when performed correctly, it is safer than fast roping because of the safety measures employed. Marines who participated in the training said that being able to fly actually helps combat any fear of heights they may have previously experienced.

“We have a lot of guys who are afraid of heights, but it’s completely different when we’re up there,” Simmerman said. “Once you realize you’re strapped in two ways and not going anywhere the fear just goes away.”

Unlike SPIE rigging, fast roping requires no harnesses or carabiners. As the helicopter hovers as high as 90 feet above the ground, Marines exit the rear of the helicopter by sliding down a rope free of constraints.

Though both methods can be used to insert Marines close to an objective in areas where suitable LZs are not available, SPIE rigging is the preferred method for extraction. One factor that determines the method of insertion is based on the amount of gear Marines are carrying. According to Sgt. Joshua Lopez, platoon sergeant for Sniper Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 3/5, service members are restricted when fast roping and cannot wear full combat loads that can range between 60-80 pounds. 

“If Marines have an 80-pound pack on their backs, they are going to move too fast down the rope (during fast roping) and will hit the ground too hard,” said Lopez.

However, under different conditions, fast roping is considered to be a swifter and simpler process because SPIE rigging involves attaching and detaching straps and links. According to Staff Sgt. Freddy Herrera, platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Company I, BLT 3/5, fast roping is a versatile helicopter insertion method which is practical for rapid insertions of troops during combat, rescue, and supply operations in urban or jungle terrain, or for boarding ships.

“Helicopters don’t always have the space to land,” said Herrera. “Fast roping makes the process of maneuvering Marines quicker and easier.”

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit