ABOARD USS BATAAN --
The smell of friction-burned leather fills the air of the enclosed hangar bay aboard USS Bataan as leathernecks with leather gloves grip a dark green rope 30 feet in the air. The only way down to the safety of the deck, is fast.
Marines with 81mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, recertified in fast-rope operations aboard Bataan May 18, 2009.
The mortarmen conducted the training as part of their responsibility as the Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel team for the 22nd MEU.
"Every 60 days we requalify as the TRAP team for the MEU," said Staff Sgt. Jacob L. Smith, a section leader and Helicopter Rope Suspension Techniques Master with Weapons Co. and a native of Decatur, Ill.
Marines climb up two levels of ladders, up the narrow passage ways, wearing full body armor. Once at the top, a HRST Master hands the rope to Marines and they shoot out of a hole in the ceiling like shell casings ejecting from a semi-automatic rifle.
The TRAP team specializes in recovering personnel and equipment, such as downed aircraft, by using techniques like fast-roping into restricted areas where helicopters can't land.
"The Marines need to safely and quickly descend to the ground," said Sgt. Jeremy L. Leaders, a fire direction center chief for Weapons Co. and native of Oak Harbor, Ohio. "They need to have confidence in me as their HRST Master to guide them down."
The Marines need to be prepared mentally and physically for fast-roping out of any helicopter for operations in any environment said Leaders.
Smith added that HRST Masters also encourage Marines not to pause when they take that initial leap in dropping down the line.
Hesitation can be hazardous in a hostile area. This type of training motivates Marines to get over the natural human fear of heights and continue the MEU's missions.
"To me, fast-roping is a controlled fall," said Smith. "That's why we do this training -- to prepare them for these mission possibilities."
Other responsibilities of a HRST Master include ensuring that everyone is wearing proper protective gear, and making sure the rope doesn't get tangled, Leaders said.
"The rope training was vital to keeping our skills as a TRAP force up to the standards of the 22nd MEU," said Lance Cpl. Cory A. Hunt, a Squad Automatic Weapon gunner with the TRAP team and native of Midland, N.C.
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is a scalable, multi-purpose force of more than 2,200 Marines and sailors. Led by Col. Gareth F. Brandl, the 22nd MEU is composed of it's Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and it's Command Element.
The 22nd MEU, deployed aboard the ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, is currently serving as the theater reserve force for U.S. European Command.
For more information on the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's Website at www.lejeune.usmc.mil/22ndmeu.