Monday, January 5, 2009

Afghanistan deployed Marines deliver FOB building materials

Story by: Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466 delivered more than 95 thousand pounds of building materials to Marines operating in southern Afghanistan Jan. 2.

The delivery was part of a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan effort to establish combat outposts in areas of Farah Province in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, an area notorious for insurgent attacks.

To speed the process along and minimize the risk of injury to Marines on the ground, HMH-466, part of SPMAGTF-A’s air combat element, delivered all of the material and equipment needed to establish a forward operating base in a manner only a heavy helo squadron could perform.

Rather than tasking Marines to load materials onto trucks and conduct numerous convoy operations to build the outposts, the HMH-466 Marines delivered the “FOBs in a box,” by conducting heavy lift external operations, hooking large containers to CH-53E Super Stallions and flying with the shipment dangling from the aircrafts’ under side.

“We essentially picked up three large shipping containers with everything a unit would need to make a FOB,” said Capt. Molly Cahill, a Super Stallion pilot.

The operation was a heavily organized event, which required several hours of maintenance from helicopter mechanics as well as coordination with all the elements of SPMAGTF-A, from the ground combatants to the Marines in the air.

With the dust-filled environment to which the aircraft are constantly exposed, they often can’t produce the engine power required to lift a 20-thousand-pound shipping container, but the Marines were up to the task.

“Our maintainers got the engines back up to specification power,” said Maj. Stuart Howell, a CH-53E pilot and the unit’s weapons and tactics instructor. “The Marines just worked it back into shape, cleaning out the engines and in some cases replacing them. We couldn’t have accomplished this mission without them.”

With the birds ready to fly, Marines on FOB Delaram prepared the crates to be picked up.
The Super Stallions arrived on Deleram in the early morning, where a Marine Helicopter Support Team was standing by to hook the cargo to the aircraft.
Three hours later, the mission was completed.

“It all went pretty well,” Cahill said. “When we got there the loads were pre-staged and we used another pilot on the ground to help coordinate the whole thing. Once we got to our destination, a Marine popped smoke and we dropped the load; easy, quick in and out operation.”

Cahill said her and all the Marines involved were more than happy to support the mission.

“We were able to give them everything they needed.” She said. “It would have taken them a long time to convoy all the supplies they needed and with external lifts, we don’t have to land the aircraft. If there’s a chance of increased threat, you can get in and out of the zone a lot faster. So we minimized the danger for all Marines involved.”

In addition to the “FOBs in a box,” Cahill and her team delivered generators and more than 900 gallons of fuel.
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