CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron-265 (Reinforced) was replaced by VMM-262 (REIN) as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s aviation combat element, ending its year-long attachment to the unit.
VMM-262 (REIN), known as the ‘Flying Tigers’, will provide the MEU with assault support and transport capability for the next year, deploying during regularly-scheduled patrols throughout the Asia-Pacific area of responsibility.
‘The Dragons’ of VMM-265 have run the full gamut of mission-essential tasks while on the 31st MEU, short of actual combat. The unit has rehearsed and executed missions multiple times through multi-national exercises, garrison training and a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation.
“We had an eventful year while on the MEU, taking our guys out to different countries and getting them experience with different types of missions and scenarios,” said Capt. Ivan C. Morin, an MV-22 Osprey pilot with VMM-265. “We really got to flex the Osprey muscle of the unit, but overall each aircraft type received great training across the Pacific.”
The Dragons’ rotation was also the first time the 31st MEU deployed with the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The Osprey replaced the troop transport and cargo lift capabilities of the CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter, better known as the “Phrog,” marking its first operational deployment with the MEU during Exercise Talisman Saber 2013 in Australia. The improved capabilities of the Osprey were quickly recognized by all MEU personnel when two Ospreys self-deployed to Australia from Okinawa..
“The Ospreys are like the ’Bionic Man’ version of helicopters - better, faster, stronger than CH-46s,” said SgtMaj. Jason C. Boldenow, sergeant major for VMM-265. “Sun Tzu recognized over 2000 years ago that speed is the essence of war. Our speed and range allow us to seize the initiative and project significant combat power exponentially faster and further than what we could achieve in any other method.”
The extended range of the Osprey not only facilitated support to exercises but to real-world contingencies as well. The MEU was in its post-deployment cycle following its return from Australia and was preparing for the holiday season when a natural disaster struck the region. In November, Super Typhoon Haiyan swept through the central islands of the Republic of the Philippines, resulting in nearly 6,000 deaths and displacing over 4.3 million residents from their homes. Within the following weeks, humanitarian aid coordinated by the Department of State and the 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade began to alleviate the suffering on the main islands, but the outlying islands not accessible by ground still needed help.
With the MEU still on Okinawa, many believed the Ospreys of VMM-265 were the perfect answer to how to quickly respond to the disaster areas.
“Most of the roadways and bridges were washed away and ferries to other islands were down, so getting supplies to those villages was (a priority),” said Morin, a native of Houston, Texas. “The load capabilities of the Osprey and the ability to land in tight spaces meant we were able to deliver aid to the locals. We could land relatively anywhere other helicopters could land, but our ability to carry more weight and refuel in the air made our Ospreys valuable to the effort.”
The Osprey’s ability to land in a small area and load more than 20 passengers with gear allowed the Dragons’ to deliver upwards of 79,000 pounds of food, water and other relief supplies. The Ospreys would unload the aid supplies to each village and replace the space with priority evacuees who needed medical attention.
Missions were flown during the day and refueling and resupply occurred during the night. The aircraft flew for one week before the government of the Philippines determined that additional flights were no longer required.
Nevertheless, the 31st MEU’s ACE is not a one-trick unit reliant solely on its Ospreys. When reinforced, the Osprey squadron is reinforced with five different types of aircraft. Detachments of CH-53E Super Stallions, AH-1W Super Cobras, UH-1Y Venom helicopters and AV-8B Harrier jets round out the composite squadron.
“These (aircraft) can do anything and everything, and our Dragons literally worked around the clock to ensure the MEU was ready to fight tonight,” said Boldenow, a native of Valdez, Alaska. “As an example, during Exercise Koolendong in the Australian Outback, the tactical convoys took nearly two days to reach the assembly area. Our Ospreys put boots on the ground in an hour. We transported over a thousand Marines back and forth from the Navy ships to well over 300 miles inland. We then maintained that tempo supporting multiple company-level attacks, combined arms exercises, (personnel and equipment transport), all while maintaining a 24-hour (casualty evacuation) capability on the objective. Further, all that is done during pre-deployment training; just a little glimpse of the overall work and hours logged while being on the MEU.”
The 31st MEU’s next training event was Exercise Ssang Yong 2014 in the Republic of Korea. The MEU worked alongside the 13th MEU from Camp Pendleton, California, as well as ROK Marine units and Australian Army soldiers. VMM-265 had a full package of aerial exercises, from live-fire shoots to supporting an amphibious beach landing.
Shortly after Ssang Yong, the 31st MEU was again called to assist in an international incident. The Korean passenger ferry Sewol capsized offshore and quickly sunk, spurring an immediate search and rescue operation. The Dragons’ Ospreys, Cobras and Venoms were quickly in the air flying daily missions in designated search patterns over the site, remaining in the area more than one week to aid in the operation.
Now back in garrison, VMM-265’s year on the 31st MEU has drawn to a close. The pilots and crews now possess amphibious experience and relevant training from partner nations and know that they contributed to the MEU’s successful deployments.
“Rain, shine, snow, high winds, chained to a rolling ship, we worked through it all,” said Boldenow. “Somehow we also found time to win some meritorious promotions, win a bunch of aviation safety and performance awards, pet some kangaroos and just have fun being U.S. Marines forward-deployed as the pointy tip of the spear.”