CHERRY POINT, NC – Taking a simple but bold step off the back of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, more than 20 force reconnaissance Marines plunged into the choppy Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast, June 18.
The maneuver was part of the initial operations for Exercise Mailed Fist, a week-long large-scale exercise launched by the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing to refine the capabilities of the Marine Corps’ East Coast aviation element.
Ground Marines from Company C, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, integrated with aviation Marines aboard two Super Stallions from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 to conduct a helocast “soft duck,” an airborne troop insertion technique used by small units and special operations forces. The troops slid rafts from the back of the aircraft before jumping into the water behind them, en route to an objective on shore.
“It’s about integrating air and ground forces, showing we can operate together and execute missions for both sides of the house,” explained Capt. Christopher Driscoll, pilot of one of the Super Stallions and native of Leonard, Texas.
The amphibious insertion accomplished one of Mailed Fist’s main objectives of maintaining a rapid-deployment ready force, while also pointing to the efforts of Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos to remain the nation’s amphibious support threat.
The insert simulated a scenario where the Marines had to enter a strategically important water objective in support of important American shipping.
“It’s real world topics and real world situations,” said Chief Petty Officer Matthew Murphy, a platoon corpsman with the recon battalion and native of Hornell, N.Y. “This is the bread and butter of amphibious reconnaissance, we could do this anywhere around the world.”
The insert took less than 30 minutes, placing the Marines, undetected, in behind enemy lines to gather intelligence for an incoming raid force, before pulling out by helicopter 72 hours later.
“This is a culmination of several different events we train for,” said Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Decker, a platoon sergeant with the recon battalion and native of San Diego. Decker said through the elements, long hours and little sleep, he was looking for his Marines to remain tactically proficient while following through their mission at hand.
Similar training exercises are usually conducted on a monthly basis, but not to the scale of Exercise Mailed Fist, explained Driscoll.
“It’s one of the few opportunities we get to do a full mission profile with air support and actual role players on the objectives,” said Capt. Colgan Norman, a platoon commander with the recon battalion and native of Grand Marais, Minn.
Norman added that the exercise allows his Marines to see the big picture and get a better understanding of their role in it.
Mailed Fist is one of the largest wing exercises in recent history, involving units from every Marine aviation installation on the East Coast. It concludes June 22 with a simulated tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel exercise, which will again combine elements of the air and ground forces to accomplish the mission.