MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif., --
A bird is down. Marines are stranded. Some could be hurt. Minutes after the call is in, Marines from the ground element are geared up, ready to retrieve their comrades.
A Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission is a strategized operation to retrieve Marines or aircraft unable to make a return flight back. Unlike a search and rescue mission, during the TRAP missions Marines have very little information to go on involving the location of their stranded brothers, the condition of the area or enemy activity.
“Majority of the time we really don’t know the type of situation we’re stepping into,” said Sgt. Joshua Gray, squad leader, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “It’s a nerve-racking feeling because you don’t know what to expect.”
No matter the uncertainty, Marines will always put themselves on the line to get their brothers back safe.
Weapons Co., 1/8, Marines conducted a TRAP exercise Dec. 3, 2011, to prepare themselves for any future missions, while deployed.
“Typically when the 81s platoons go out on MEUs, they are the TRAP-ready platoon,” said 1st. Lt. Kevin Fitzsimmons, 81mm mortar platoon commander, Weapons Co., 1/8. “It’s a good thing to keep us up to speed.”
The Marines sat in rows with the muzzles of their rifles facing down. The high frequency squeal of the propellers was deafening and the air in high altitude was freezing. Marines fought fatigue during the long helicopter ride, while they flew out to retrieve an unknown number of Marines in an unknown area.
An air crewman laid down in the back of the helicopter, with his head sticking out the back, spotted the Marines on the ground and relayed the message to the Marines strapped in their seats behind him. The noise inside the Stallion was too loud for regular spoken word to be understood. The message was passed down the line from each Marine to the next one beside them by yelling overly pronounced words alongside hand gestures.
“Two Marines, one injured.”
This pantomiming version of relaying information is used once again before landing at the site. The five Marines closest to the back were pointed to, followed by a hand movement pointing out the rear of the aircraft. They were the first to debark and provided security for the rest of the Marines as they exited the craft.
“The biggest issue once they get off the bird is where everything is oriented and where they need to go,” said Fitzsimmons. “Being in a helicopter, your situational awareness goes to zero.”
The Marines securing the area were soon followed by the corpsman, stretcher in hand, and the remaining Marines. They rushed to the aid of the two Marines pretending to be stranded, sitting roughly 100 yards from the landing site.
The Marines quickly set up the stretcher and carefully rolled the Marine with a simulated injury onto it and headed back to the awaiting helicopter. After getting the two new Marines on board safely, the Marines providing security hurried back onboard. Just as quickly as they had come, they were off the ground and headed home.
“Overall it was a success,” said Fitzsimmons. “We got our guys back.”