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Red Patchers, Dragons provide essential assets

20 Oct 2009 | Lance Cpl. Michael A. Bianco

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter hovers 20-feet above the ground, as Marines below link it to a cargo net filled with relief supplies. A signalman from Landing Support Platoon (LS Plt.) gestures to the pilot and the helicopter takes off baring the 14,000-pound load.

Landing Support Plt., Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB-31) and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 Reinforced (HMM-265 REIN), served as two of the MEU’s major benefactors while participating in Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations in Indonesia from Oct. 9-14. The relief efforts provided aid in wake of several earthquakes that rampaged through the West Sumatra Province of Indonesia earlier this month.

Marines from HMM-265 REIN provided heavy-lift capabilities via CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, while the LS Plt., commonly referred to as “red patches” because of the red patches worn on their service utilities, served as the helicopter support team (HST) during the HA/DR operations.

 According to Jeffery Addison, a landing support specialist from LS Plt., the job of a red patch consists of various duties that support the establishment, maintenance and control of transportation missions on beaches, landing zones, ports and terminals used in support of Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) operations and deployments. While acting as an HST, the Marines ensure that the external load is both safely rigged and attached to the helicopters’ hook system.  

The helicopters transported food, medical and shelter supplies to affected villages in the region. Both internal and external loads were used when delivering provisions.

Supplies are loaded into the cabin of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter during internal lifts. External lifts require supplies to be loaded into cargo nets and strung from the underside of the helicopter.

During external lifts, LS Plt. loaded cargo nets with as much as 14,000 pounds of supplies at a time.

“This was a great opportunity for us,” said Addison, a veteran of three HA/DR missions. “We are chosen for missions like this because of our MOS (military occupational specialty) and we are glad we can do our part in a time of need.”

Due to certain limitations and restrictions for establishing an operating cell ashore, the “Dragons” from HMM-265 REIN transported the LS Marines from ship to shore every morning. As soon as the red patches debarked from the helicopter, Indonesian locals drove trucks full of supplies onto the airfield and the mission of loading the air crafts became a joint effort.

During LS operations, other Marines, sailors and non-government organization (NGO) officials at time would assist in the mission in order to help expedite the delivery of goods to the people in affected areas.

“It really was a combined and joint operation,” said Addison, a Newburgh, N.Y. native. “When a truck would drive onto the airfield with a big load of supplies everyone came to give a helping hand. It was good because the more help we had made the load process faster and gave the chance to transport more than we estimated.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Krzystofczyk, landing support chief for CLB-31, said when serving as the HST it is important that the pilot and members of the HST be all the same page.

“Our job can become very hazardous in the blink of an eye when conducting HSTs,” said the Joliet, Ill. native. “This is one of the biggest aspects of our MOS. We have to constantly train with the Wing to make sure the missions go as smooth as possible.”

Maj. Don White, CH-53E Detachment officer in charge and maintenance officer for HMM-265 REIN, added, “The HST is an absolute necessity to the CH-53E in order for it to be able to execute its external missions. Without the HST, the CH-53E could not execute its external missions.” 

Overall, the two elements of the MEU transported more than 130,000 pounds of supplies, 650 people including medical assistants, local military and dignitaries and completed more than 46 flight hours according to White.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit