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Corporals Anthony Thomas and Joshua Randall, aircraft rescue and firefighting specialists from Support Company, Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, combat a notional fire aboard a downed aircraft during a mock Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission March 19. The TRAP mission was part of a week-long field operation to prepare the Marines and sailors of MWSS-374 for combat operations overseas.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn

‘Rhinos’ train for overseas combat support

20 Mar 2009 | Lance Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn

When Marine ground units deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, they receive support from medical, logistical and other personnel.

The same is true for Marine Air Wing Squadrons bolstered by Marine Wing Support Squadrons who provide airfield, engineer and logistical sustainment.

Marines and sailors from MWSS-374 spent March 16 - 20 immersed in a field training exercise in the Sand Hill training area near the Combat Center’s Expeditionary Air Field to prepare them for operations in hostile environments during deployments in support of helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft squadrons.

Throughout the week, the Marines and sailors conducted security in and around their forward operating base near the EAF, warding off simulated insurgent rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and small-arms attacks, said 1st Lt. Jose Ojeda, the MWSS-374 adjutant. They also conducted operations “outside the wire” to familiarize themselves with convoy and patrol operations.

Each training scenario helped build up to the final exercise – a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission inside hostile terrain.

After the TRAP mission commander, 2nd Lt. Elena Darr, received the call, the team began donning their gear. The objective was to insert into the area, rescue the crew of the downed helicopter, and recover or destroy the aircraft.

“When an aircraft is down, we’re there to treat anyone who’s been injured and put out any fires on the aircraft,” said Cpl. Damian Bachman, the aircraft recovery and firefighting team noncommissioned officer in charge. “Our first and foremost concern is safety for each other and for everyone in the area. The aircraft could have ordnance still on board, or there could be fuel leaking out.”

The operation began as a convoy of security, medical and firefighting personnel, dubbed “Stick One,” exited the FOB at sunrise March 19. The watchful eyes of the security team scanned the area for enemy activity as the vehicles rumbled toward the crash site.

When they arrived, the TRAP team discovered an old UH-1 Huey hulk lying on its side. Three crew member role-players lay sprawled out about 100 meters away from the aircraft, each in critical condition.

Security teams quickly spread out and set up a perimeter around the crash site while the ARF crew put out the notional blaze on the aircraft. Once the fire was out, ARF and medical personnel began treating the simulated casualties from the crash.

While the casualties were being treated, the security teams encountered several insurgent role-players in the area. As the insurgents were rounded up and the casualties were treated, “Stick Two” departed the FOB with the aircraft recovery team.

Once “Stick Two” arrived, Capt. Joshua McKeighan, the squadron’s air safety officer and Airfield Company commander, taught a quick class about TRAP missions and how they would be carried out in real-life scenarios.

“In reality, there are two extremes to this scenario,” McKeighan said. “The first is a hostile environment, where there is heavy fighting and the first responders are generally personnel already on the ground. In this scenario, the goal is to rescue the crew and either recover or destroy the aircraft before the enemy can get to it.

“The second scenario is a permissive scenario, meaning something that would happen in a non-hostile environment,” he said. “Civilian law enforcement could be the first responders on scene. The objective is to keep civilians away from the aircraft for safety reasons.”

In the event of an aircraft crash, an investigation would also be conducted to determine the cause of the accident, McKeighan said. The investigation could take anywhere between 24-72 hours.

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