CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Although the helicopter has revolutionized warfare with its unique ability to deliver troops into almost any location, there are still places where even helicopters need a little extra reach. As their deployment draws closer, approx. 40 Marines from the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) now possess the skill to provide that added reach.
As graduates of two iterations of the Helicopter Rope Suspension Training (HRST) Master's Course, these Marines can facilitate the insertion or extraction of Marines and Sailors into even the most remote locations such as thick forests, congested urban sprawl, or precarious mountain passes.
"We teach the Marines how to rig CH-46Es, CH-53s, and UH-1Ns for fast-roping, SPIE (Special Purpose Insertion Extraction), and rappelling," said Gunnery Sgt. Jim Boutin, lead instructor for the HRST Course, which is run by the II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Group (SOTG). "We aren't a formal school so they [the students] don't receive an MOS [military occupational specialty], but a designator and a lot of great experience."
Participants in the course included Marines from the MEU Command Element and its ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines (BLT 1/6), as well as a smattering of Marines from units outside the MEU. According to Cpl. Edward L. Jacobs, a squad leader with C Co., BLT 1/6, his command's intent is to try to have at least one HRST master in each platoon in the battalion.
The course spans two weeks with the first week devoted toward classroom instruction that provides familiarization with knots and rigging systems (11 in all). Upon mastery of these subjects, the students put their new skills to use on towers, and after passing a written test, move on to week two.
"There was a lot to learn," said Jacobs. "It was kind of daunting, but not impossible, because you know you have to learn everything in order to take care of your Marines."
Despite the importance of week one, week two is where the 'rubber meets the road.'
"During week two, the students actually get to get up into aircraft and put to use what they've learned," said Boutin, an infantryman who has served with SOTG for 18 months. "They go up in the aircraft and rotate being the HRST master and actually going down the ropes."
Helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), the 22d MEU's aviation combat element, provided air support for week two. In doing so, the CH-46E Sea Knight and UH-1N Huey aviators and air crew got the chance to practice a skill they may have to use during deployment with the actual HRST masters they may work alongside.
Practical application included single- and dual-point fast roping into Camp Lejeune's urban combat facility and onto the simulated deck of an amphibious assault ship. The Marines also got to try their hand at SPIE rigging.
The responsibility inherent with rigging systems on which other Marines will be dangling high above the ground is not lost the students.
"As an HRST master you have the last word on a drop," said Cpl. Adam J. Mueller, a Spanish linguist assigned to the MEU Command Element's Radio Battalion Detachment. "There's a lot of pressure, but great responsibility knowing that other Marines' lives are in your hands."
The HRST Masters' Course is just one of several SOTG-taught courses the Marines and Sailors of the MEU receive as they prepare to deploy early next year. Other courses include instruction in helicopter and mechanized raids, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, small boat operations, mass casualty situations, and urban combat.
For more information on the organization, mission, and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.