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A Marine with Company C., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, provides security for his squad as they fast rope from a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, at Landing Zone Hansen here, Feb. 7. As part of the remain behind element while the rest of BLT 1/4 is deployed in support of Cobra Gold 2012 in the Kingdom of Thailand, the Marines are making the most of the time to further enhance their training in preparation for their upcoming deployment. The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

31st MEU Helo Marines hone fast roping skills

7 Feb 2012 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

Looking down, he saw nothing but emptiness. The white noise of the rotors drowned out his thoughts as he flipped down his night vision goggles, bathing the night in a sea of static green. Reaching out, he grabbed the rope that swayed before him, and without hesitation, he jumped.

Marines with Company C., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, rehearsed fast roping capabilities during a low visibility conditions at Landing Zone Hansen here, Feb. 7. The purpose of the evening’s operation was to further train the Marines in the skills of quickly and safely egressing in-flight helicopters as well as strengthening the interoperability between Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU and BLT 1/4.

“Fast roping provides the capability of putting Marines on deck where the terrain might not allow for a helo to land,” said 2nd Lt. Joshua Johnson, safety insertion officer with BLT 1/4, 31st MEU. “If done correctly, the Marines will be on the ground and in position quicker than if the helo was to land and then unload.”

The fast roping training conducted at LZ Hansen is just another step in a progression carried out by the Marines known as ‘Helo Co.’ Starting two weeks ago, the refreshing exercises started with fast roping techniques off of the practice tower. Later, Marines fast roped during daylight hours, and now have moved on to executing the technique during low-light hours.

The weather also provided an added obstacle to the training with sporadic wind gusts and rain showers.

“Even though we’ve done this before, it’s still a rush to drop down the hellhole,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnathan Sawpsell, corpsman with Company C. “Practice makes perfect, and we’re going to keep practicing until the procedure is muscle memory for when it comes time to do it again.”

The relationship between HMM-265 and BLT 1/4 is also fortified by these types of exercises.

“The BLT and the helo Marines get some facetime with each other as well as some procedure familiarization before the exercises so it all runs smoothly,” said Capt. Holly Zabinski, pilot with HMM-265, 31st MEU. “Some of the senior Marines also get in to give the younger Marines some tips and pointers along the way to help them during these ops. In the end, it all helps the BLT and helo Marines work better together to accomplish the mission.”

By the end of the day, every Marine completed three to four slides from two CH-46 Sea Knights and one UH-1N Huey helicopter. While there may have been a few minor spills after coming off the rope, every Marine walked away with a more comprehensive understanding of the fast roping procedures.

“As we are the remain behind element with the rest of the BLT deployed in support of Cobra Gold 2012, we’re making the most out of our upcoming training ops,” said Johnson. “Our primary mission while on the MEU is to conduct helo raids, and we’re going to stay prepared to conduct real-world operations.”

The next and final step in Helo Co.’s training regimen is to incorporate fast roping techniques into a live training operation.

The remaining elements of the 31st MEU that are not participating in Exercise Cobra Gold 2012 will continue to rigorously train for their upcoming deployment.

The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.


31st Marine Expeditionary Unit