AL ASAD, Iraq -- The “Warhorses” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 have reaffirmed their capabilities by completing a mission that has not been performed for over 30 years.
During Operation Al Majid, on Nov. 29, two Warhorse CH-53 “Super Stallions” conducted an external artillery lift during combat operations, a mission which has not been executed since the days of the Vietnam War.
“Pretty much what we did was pick up an (M-198 howitzer) and take it to Golf Company, (2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment),” said Maj. Jeff L. Davis, the Warhorse operations officer. “They were firing within an hour or so. To the best of our knowledge, that’s the first combat lift of an artillery piece since Vietnam.”
During the Vietnam War, helicopters were the primary source of transportation for artillery. Using helicopters gave artillery units greater mobility in a war where front lines were replaced by perimeter defenses. Operating out of fire support bases, artillery pieces could fire 360 degrees in support of combat operations.
The mission for the Warhorses involved using an external lift to carry the artillery piece and ammunition to a remote location.
A second “Super Stallion” carried approximately 8,000 pounds of ammunition for the M-198. The helicopters then made another trip to the drop-off point carrying 6,000 pounds of ammo each, according to Sgt. Juan S. Esquivel, a crew chief on the CH-53 carrying the artillery piece.
The entire mission took approximately three hours and went off without a hitch, according to Capt. Chris P. Roy, the aircraft commander of the CH-53 that carried the howitzer.
“From our end it was a very successful mission from pick-up to drop-off,” said Roy. “Everything went as planned.”
Carrying a load as heavy as the artillery piece is something that the Marines of HMH-465 train for, but do not get to do very often, according to Maj. Tom D. Keating, the co-pilot on the helicopter that carried the M-198.
“We do a lot of practice carrying heavy external loads,” said Keating. “We train for it - we’re capable of it, but we don’t get to lift as many as we would like. It felt good to use the CH-53 for its primary mission.”
The Marines of HMH-465 did not realize the historic significance of their flight until after they had already landed, according to Keating. For the Warhorses though, it was more about helping fellow Marines than making history.
“We know our mission in theater is important,” said Keating. “But to move something the ground forces could use that day; it felt good to be doing something in direct support of the Marines on the ground.”