FORT PICKETT, VA. -- Enveloped in the unnerving whine of dual 1,870-horsepower General Electric turboshaft engines, crew chief Staff Sergeant Warren L. Babich peered down from his CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter and studied the ground below to guide his pilot to a safe landing aboard the grounds of an industrial sewage treatment plant in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2007.
Contending with the warm gusts of air curling around him through the starboard window, he calmly spoke to his pilots through the aircraft’s intercom and guided them around menacing obstacles like trees, radio towers, and power-lines. With a final, “25, 20, 15, ten, five, three, two, one, down,” the wheels contacted the narrow grassy patch.
Babich has been working along with the rest of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced) to conduct operations throughout Richmond’s cityscape as a part of a Realistic Urban Training, or RUT, evolution. RUT is a combined-arms training exercise which employs the subordinate elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in lockstep and trains them on the complexities of warfare in real-world urban terrain.
“Landing in a city is different than landing in an open field,” said Babich. “We always try to avoid trees, but in the city we have to watch out for radio towers, microwave antennas and people on the ground.”
Capt. Pete Lisowski, a CH-53 Super Stallion pilot, emphasized the importance of the two enlisted Marines who fly in the fuselage behind him wherever he goes.
“We don’t do anything without our crew chiefs,” said Lisowski. “We can’t see the ground very well from where we are located in the cockpit, so they’re literally our eyes-in-the-sky when we’re landing.”
The helicopters of HMM-261 are equally employed during day and nighttime operations for the insertion of Marines during raids and the extraction of the wounded, said Lisowski. This aspect of flying brings additional challenges.
Structures like buildings, radio towers and fences are not always marked or well lit, but in spite of these inherent dangers, CH-46E mechanic Lance Cpl. Michael A. Thomas said that this training has been beneficial as well as fun.
“I love flying through cities,” said Thomas. “There’s a lot to see like huge houses and people waving at us. It’s awesome.”
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit consists of its Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced); Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and Command Element. For more information on the MEU’s upcoming deployment, visit the unit’s website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.