First they hear the thumping of the rotors, followed by the deafening thunder of .50 caliber machine gun fire, and by the time they raise their heads to mount a defense it is already too late - the Marines have landed.
Marines and Sailors of Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, alongside Philippine Marines of the 33rd Battalion, 33rd Marine Company, inserted with helicopters of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-262 (Reinforced) to conduct a helicopter raid training exercise here, Oct. 14.
For more than a week, the 31st MEU has been training alongside their Philippine counterparts to increase interoperability during the annual Philippine Bilateral Amphibious Landing Exercise. The Marines of Company G. have spent the majority of that time training in small-unit tactics with Philippine Marines.
"This range serves as a culmination for more than a week of training, since we've gone from fire team to squad through to platoon level, and now incorporating the helicopters with live-fire," said 1st Lt. Sam Long, executive officer for Company G., BLT 2/1, 31st MEU, and a native of Houston, Texas.
The two groups of Marines completely integrated for the raid, with each participating squad consisting of U.S. and Philippine riflemen and machine gunners. Those squads boarded CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters for insertion into a hot landing zone.
As the helicopters approached the target site, crew chiefs from each aircraft suppressed the target area with live ammunition from GAU-21 .50 caliber machine guns and XM 218 .50 caliber machine guns. Solid suppression is vital to the successful insertion of troops in a combat zone.
"Providing accurate fire on the target can save yours, or your wingman's life by keeping the enemy's heads down to minimize damage on the aircraft as we descend," said Cpl. Christopher W. Johnson, crew chief for HMM-262 (REIN), 31st MEU, and a native of Youngstown, Ohio. "That suppression also gives the infantry Marines a chance to get out of the aircraft and find cover."
Once the dust of the leaving aircraft had cleared, the bilateral group of Marines assaulted across muddy terrain to eliminate targets more than 300 meters from the LZ. Using the small-unit tactics they had practiced throughout PHIBLEX, the objective was quickly cleared.
After completing the exercise, many of the Company G. Marines felt they had gained as much from the experience as they had taught.
"Just like we've been teaching them, they've been teaching us a lot. We learn a lot from these guys. They are extremely professional and very proficient," said Long.
The exercise also proved valuable to the pilots and crew of HMM-262(REIN), as it allowed them to put into practice a number of skills required to support the combat operations of the 31st MEU.
"For us it is critical training. It allows us to practice ingress into a hot landing zone, shooting our weapons at ground targets, dropping off troops and firing at targets on egress," said Captain Jonah B. Warren, CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter pilot for HMM-262 (REIN), 31st MEU, and a native of Canton, N.C.
The 31st MEU is nearly finished with the 29th iteration of PHIBLEX, the annually scheduled bilateral training exercise designed to increase interoperability between U.S. and Philippine forces while strengthening their long standing bond.
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps' force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and the only continuously forward deployed MEU.
Article by Sgt. Paul Robbins Jr., 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit