AL ASAD AIRFIELD, Iraq -- By the time Lance Cpl. Blake Rowe was born in 1983, the aircraft on which he today so carefully labors had already been flying for nearly two decades, and shows no sign of touching the ground.
Like the Colt .45 pistol (introduced in 1911) and the M-2 .50-caliber machine gun (around since 1919), the venerable CH-46E Sea Knight medium lift assault helicopter has become one of those tools of war whose dependability and utility has ensured its lifespan exceeds the careers of those who use it.
Used primarily in the assault support role, meaning the transport of combat-laden Marines, the Sea Knight first took flight in the early 1960s and received its combat baptism over the steamy jungles of Vietnam. Since then, the dual-rotor helicopter has seen service throughout the world and continues to be a reliable aviation platform supporting Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Among the fleet of squadrons that call Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, home are the ‘Raging Bulls’ of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced), the aviation combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). As the organic helicopter of the composite squadron, which also includes transport, utility, and attack helicopters and jets, the Sea Knight continues to soar despite its age and the harsh conditions in which it flies.
Unofficially, yet commonly known in Marine circles as the ‘Phrog,’ the Sea Knights of HMM-261 are used in the assault support, cargo, medical evacuation, and reconnaissance roles.
The aircraft’s solid performance is owed to the hard work and dedication of Rowe, a native of Defiance, Ohio, and his fellow CH-46E mechanics in HMM-261, who often put in as many as 16 to 18 hours a day ensuring the aircraft are ready to fly.
“Our 46s are doing awesome,” said Cpl. Stephen Pfeiffer, of Hampton, Va., one of HMM-261’s CH-46E mechanics. “We work day and night, seven days a week, but it’s all worth it seeing the aircraft take off and come home safely.”
Pfeiffer, who is on his second deployment to Iraq with the Raging Bulls, went on to say the aircraft is remarkably adept at adopting to Iraq’s extreme environment.
“On my first deployment, we were here from February to September ,” said Pfeiffer. “At that time we had to deal with the summer when the temperatures were way over a hundred degrees, and now, of course, it’s winter and we’re freezing out there, but still getting the job done.”
According to Pfeiffer, the temperatures and climate in which the Sea Knight operates has little effect on its performance.
“Different things may go wrong on the aircraft from time to time, but overall, there haven’t really been any serious problems,” added Pfeiffer, “butt we’ve got the training and equipment to keep the aircraft moving, and except for scheduled maintenance, most of the aircraft are always up [mission-ready].”
Private Christopher White, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is another mechanic who plugs away day in and day out to keep the Phrogs of HMM-261 flying.
“Like all the maintainers in the squadron, we work really long hours,” he said, “and since we’ve been here we haven’t dropped a single mission. The aircraft, even though they’re really old, are always ready to go so there’s no mission degradation and we’re ready to support the infantry.”
“We’re all really proud of that record.”
Although it set sail from the United States in November with the 22nd MEU (SOC), upon its arrival in Iraq, HMM-261 was detached to serve under its parent command – the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. In this capacity, the squadron has supported the MEU and other Marine and Iraqi army units in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. Once the MEU departs Iraq, the squadron will once again fall in with the unit.
In addition to the Raging Bulls, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, and MEU Service Support Group 22. The unit is conducting counterinsurgency operations in Al Anbar province Iraq with an Iraqi Army battalion under the tactical control of the 2nd Marine Division.
For more information on the MEU’s role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, visit the unit’s web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.