CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan -- With a firm grip on a thick rope, the Marines leap from the back of an aircraft hovering 40 feet above the ground. Within seconds, they are setting up security in the drop zone. Within minutes, the entire force of Marines is on the ground.
Marines with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted fast rope training using CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) here, July 27.
Fast-rope insertion involves sliding down a large rope without a harness, allowing the Marines to step away and move into position without sacrificing time to un-harness. It also allows the helicopter to make a quick exit by releasing the rope to the ground before safely flying away.
“The reason we are conducting this training is to not only certify our ability to do it, but to also build our skills,” said 1st Lt. Cole W. Lapierre, the officer in charge of the training and a native of Phoenix, Ariz.
When Marines first learn the fast-rope technique, they tend to have little control of their speed, according to Lapierre. Practicing raises their confidence during the descent, allowing them to go down the rope faster and smoother.
“This is the first time for a lot of the Marines here to repel out of a helicopter like this,” said Cpl. Stephen C. Lewis, a squad leader with BLT 2/1 and a native of Oak Harbor, Wash. “Without this training we would have a harder time executing in a real situation.”
The ability to exit helicopters without landing is a critical tool for inserting Marines in hostile or harsh terrain. Situation and terrain dictate if fast-rope insertion is necessary.
If the target area is the roof of a building, a thick jungle or contains a significant anti-aircraft threat, the helicopter may not be able to land or takeoff safely. With the option to insert from heights above 30 feet, the Marines will have greater flexibility in how to approach a target.
Proper execution of the technique gives the MEU the ability to insert a large force of Marines in minutes, while cutting down the risk for the aircraft, according to Lewis.
“Having this capability gives the MEU commander the option to use the BLT for more advanced insertions,” said Lewis. “The MEU has a lot of capabilities and fast-roping from helicopters just adds to the list.”
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps' force in readiness for the Asia Pacific and the Marine Corps’ only continuously forward deployed MEU.