OKINAWA, Japan --
As the sun sank in the distance, a small group of Marine Corps helicopters roared to life and lifted skyward, carrying a heavy payload of machine gun rounds and rockets to unleash on their designated target.
Marines with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced) conducted night vision flight training and a live fire exercise on an uninhabited island off the coast of Okinawa, May 8.
Part of a string of certification exercises routinely carried out by HMM-265 (REIN), known as the "Dragons," the night exercise pitted the pilots and crew against a fictional enemy, defending a small island.
The exercise consisted of three CH-46Es, two AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters and one UH-1N Huey helicopter.
"The objective is to insert 30 notional Marines onto this island to set up an observation post," said Capt. Hung Nguyen, operations administration officer and CH-46E Sea Knight co-pilot. "That will be after engaging any enemy in the area utilizing the weapons systems on our aircraft."
To suppress the enemy from the landing zone, the aircraft expended thousands of rounds from a wide array of armaments including the M2 .50 caliber machine gun, the M134 minigun and the M138 rocket management subsystem.
Following the barrage, the CH-46Es touched down on the island, guided by a laser designator from one of the helicopters, offloading notional Marines and egressing within minutes.
The experienced pilots and crew of the "Dragons" completed their night raid training with precision and recognized value in its execution, even without actual Marines to deploy or a role-played enemy to engage.
"There is no real enemy here and there are no Marines to deploy, but if we didn't do this training, we would be at a serious disadvantage in the future," said Lance Cpl. Garrett Kilgore, CH-46E crew chief with HMM-265 (REIN). "Doing this night exercise allows us in the back of the aircraft to get a better handle on operating the weapons systems with Night Vision Goggles."
While every Marine involved gained valuable experience in their role during night operations, some used the exercise as a chance to achieve needed certifications.
"For me, I'm becoming qualified to lead three aircraft into missions tonight," said Nguyen. "Another pilot is also being tested, so tonight's exercise is not a one-track event. It's serving a multitude of functions while we complete our objective."
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.