The thunder of Marine CH-53E Super Stallions broke the calm afternoon skies of Fort Bragg, Sept. 26. Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 responded to a request from the 18th Fires Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, to lift M777 howitzers during a training exercise on the post.
An Army heavy lift unit was previously scheduled for the exercise but could not meet the commitment, so HMH-366, dubbed “Hammerhead,” filled the void and took advantage of a unique opportunity for joint training alongside Soldiers.
“I believe joint training is the wave of the future,” said Maj. John A. Gagan, the 18th Fires Bde. aviation coordination officer. “As the forces start to downsize, we have to learn to participate and work in joint exercises so when we’re called to deploy, we can use these skills. It’s part of a one team, one fight concept.”
The brigade had two M777 howitzers and gun crews with a mission to move to a predetermined location, conduct a fire mission, and move out of the area when the fire mission was complete. Even a mission so seemingly simple requires coordination and cooperation between the two units to complete properly.
“The standard operating procedures are always going to be slightly different from service to service, so you have to find that happy medium with them,” said Cpl. Timothy A. Gayson, a CH-53E crew chief with the squadron. “As long as everyone is on the same page, any joint operation is easy to do.”
Both services had factors to consider. HMH-366 needed to find an airfield to refuel and coordinate with Army flight control and Army signalmen on the ground. The 18th Fires Bde. had to coordinate their transport plan with the helicopter crew chiefs and later ensure the helicopters found the correct landing zone to drop the howitzers.
“A joint operation has a lot more planning and has a lot more assets that you need to work with,” said Gayson. “It’s a lot more coordination, so when it all comes together and it turns out well, you can see all the time and effort you put into it was definitely worth it.”
The various links of coordination between the squadron and brigade were met with a variety of difficulties and successes.
After the mission, the units kept lines of communication open to talk about what worked well and where improvements could be made. The lessons learned will carry over into future operations.
“When you fly somewhere you’re not familiar with, working with units you’re not familiar with, it makes you revisit all the planning documents and all the steps that are taken into account,” said Capt. Robert C. Debeneadto, the future operations officer for HMH-366. “It makes us get used to planning outside the box a little bit. The more you plan out of your comfort area, the better you’re going to be at it.”