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Reserve Squadron supports special operations training

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Marine special operations forces cleared buildings on the edge of a simulated town in the Mojave Desert, populated with role-playing insurgents Oct. 9.

Five hundred feet above, a UH-1N Huey utility helicopter and an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter from Detachment A, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773, Marine Aircraft Group 49, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, circled overhead, surveying the town for any possible threats.

The Reserve squadron, nicknamed the “Red Dogs” was providing simulated close-air support by offering eyes and weapons from the sky for the leathernecks of Marine Corps Special Operations Command who were training for a scheduled deployment. Most of HMLA-773’s pilots and crew had combat experience flying the same missions they were conducting with the MARSOC Marines.

“We’ve seen it and know what it is like so we can drive the experience in a realistic way,” said Lt. Col. Kristian Pfieffer, commander of HMLA-773’s Belle Chasse, La., detachment

The Red Dogs flew Hueys and Cobras, and Marines from all three of their detachments to the Mojave Desert to help make MARSOC’s training more comparable to a combat environment. HMLA-773 worked with MARSOC for three weeks and integrated simulated close-air supports, resupplies, casualty evacuations, battle damage assessments and aerial reconnaissance into MARSOC’s training.

Dogs in the fight

Miles away from the simulated town, the Marines sat in their helicopters, waiting for a possible mission to assist the ground troops. They flew to the town within minutes of receiving a request into action.

Their mission was to aid the Marines on the ground in removing hostile threats from the area. The crew kept an eye on vehicle movements and looked for disturbed dirt, piles of trash or dead animals, which are usually signs of planted roadside bombs.

“We’ve got another vehicle inbound from the west about 600 meters from your position,” Capt. Michael Roberson, the Huey pilot, relayed to the ground forces.

Meanwhile, the Cobra moved in closer to watch a white pickup truck as the Huey circled above, looking for more activity.

From the sky, the aircraft provided information that the MARSOC Marines couldn’t observe: speed of the moving vehicle, number of passengers, and passengers’ actions.

“Look at your one o’clock, he’s got something in the back of the truck,” the Huey crew chief, Sgt. Travis Trahan, pointed out to his pilot.

The helicopters continued to spot vehicles and report their activities to the MARSOC Marines. They helped the MARSOC Marines secure the town by providing eyes in the sky, returning home once no more threats remained.

“Our mission is deemed successful if the guys on the ground’s mission is successful,” said Trahan.

The helicopters could have attacked targets down below if it was requested, but in this case it was unnecessary. Part of a close-air support mission is the detailed integration of aviation fires to help the ground combat forces maneuver. After a successful attack, they can provide damage assessments to determine if targets should be further engaged.

Training with the combat-experienced Red Dogs helped the soon-to-deploy Marines become more familiar with close-air support.

“There is nothing better than knowing our work may make a difference in the upcoming MARSOC deployment,” said Roberson, a Columbia, S.C., native who deployed four times to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Red Dogs will return home to their detachments once they are finished supporting. HMLA-773 has three detachments, one at Robbins Air Force Base, Ga., another at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Belle Chasse, La., and the last at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

4th MAW is a mirror image – albeit smaller force – of its Active Component counterparts. 4th MAW forces support combat operations, theater security cooperation, pre-deployment training, operation plans in support of 1st MAW and Pacific Command, Unit Deployment Plan, Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force , and staff support to Joint Task Forces.

Article by Cpl. Nana Dannsaappiah, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve