Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Michael A. Thomas, a CH-46E Sea Knight crew chief with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261, and an Orange County, Calif., native, works into the evening to secure his aircraft aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., March 8, 2007. The Marines and sailors of HMM-261 are currently training as the Aviation Combat Element for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit scheduled to deploy later this year. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Peter R. Miller)

Photo by Cpl. Peter R. Miller

Helicopters give grunts a lift during raid course

9 Mar 2007 | Cpl. Peter R. Miller

The usual "sound of freedom" from aircraft aboard the air station was joined recently by a company of infantry Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit's Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 has been supporting the helicopter-borne assault training of Company I, BLT 3/8, during their recent "raid week." This has given the two elements a valuable opportunity to train together.

"We're a helicopter-borne raid company, and we do all types of missions," said Platoon Commander 2nd Lt. Jordan Clay, of New Canaan, Conn.  "This week we've conducted raids in search of key individuals, weapons traffickers, and weapons caches."

"It's very realistic, and on a [Marine Expeditionary Unit], this is what we could be doing," said Clay.

The Marines and sailors of BLT 3/8 are scheduled to deploy later this year as the Ground Combat Element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.  The squadron will also support the upcoming deployment and will act as the MEU's Aviation Combat Element.  The combined training exercise has been beneficial to both sides.

"We get to do real-world missions in a safe environment," said Capt. Orlando Corchado, a CH-46E pilot from New York.  "We're getting good training doing raids with the infantry, and we're all having a lot of fun out here."

Pilots like Corchado have been flying infantry Marines like Lance Cpl. Jose O. Negron into "hot" landing zones aboard Camp Lejeune daily in support of the training scenarios, and the pilots weren't the only ones having a good time.

"Flying is awesome.  It's motivating," said Negron, a Tampa, Fla., native. "I love getting on the birds because you never know what's going to happen next." 

Infantryman Pfc. Dominic Griggs agreed that this training has been interesting and atypical of the daily grind.

"The training is high-speed and it's good," said the Orlando native.  "It's definitely something we don't get to do every day as [infantry Marines].

With the raid scenarios extending into the early morning hours, the HMM-261 maintenance crew has been ratcheting up the hours to keep the missions flying.  Airframe mechanic Lance Cpl. Brandon Garner has been there to lend a grease-spotted hand.

"If a bird is down, we just have to work that much harder to get it back in the air," said Garner, a native of Cameron, N.C.  "When there are Marines out on the ground, we do whatever it takes to get them back."

The Marines and sailors of BLT 3/8 and HMM-261 are scheduled to deploy alongside Combat Logistics Battalion 22 under the operational control of the 22nd MEU Command Element later this year.  To stay informed on the many elements and missions of the MEU, visit
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit