AL QAIM, Iraq -- The “Black Knights” of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 have a detachment of personnel and aircraft here supporting Operation Spear, an offensive aimed at eliminating insurgents and foreign fighters from the northwestern Al Anbar province.
According to Maj. Chris Boniface, detachment officer in charge and CH-46E pilot, the detachment is conducting casualty evacuations, any possible combat re-supply and assault support.
While the majority of the squadron is based at Al Asad Air Base, where they already have a mission to carry out, Boniface said sending a detachment here doesn’t affect the squadron’s workload. Recently, the squadron had a detachment here conducting the same types of missions in support of Operation Matador.
“We plan for these types of detachments,” said Boniface, a native of Jacksonville, N.C. “As a ‘46’ squadron that is our job – to be able to meet the requirements and needs of the Marines on the ground.”
A detachment of UH-60A Blackhawks from the U.S. Army’s 571st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) was already operating out of this base, the increase of activity caused by the operation created the need for more personnel and helicopters and HMM-264 was ready to accept the mission.
“This is what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Sgt. Ryan C. Smith, a CH-46E Sea Knight crew chief with the squadron. “We are able to provide on-call support whenever they need it.”
Corporal Thomas J. Dudley, a CH-46E crew chief from Fort Mill, S.C., said casualty evacuation missions are fast paced.
“After we get the call our flight might only last 10 minutes but there are a lot of moving parts,” said Dudley. “As we’re on the way pilots get information on the threat situation, the type of landing zone we’re going into and things of that nature.”
Smith said the forward air control officers with the Marines on the ground provide the pilots with the information needed for the helicopter to fly in, load the patient and fly off in a safe manner.
“They do a real good job at giving us information on obstacles near the landing zone and marking the landing zone for us,” said Smith, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native.
The “Black Knights” are ready to charge into battle in support of the U.S. and coalition efforts in Iraq. Whether providing casualty evacuation to ensure warfighters are getting the medical attention that may save their lives, or providing logistic or assault support their objective is simple and always the same: to provide the best support possible.