CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina -- The CH-53 Super Stallion has the capability of carrying a load weighing 36,000 pounds, to include itself and its crew. Whether it’s military personnel, supplies or weapons, the CH-53 can transport its cargo just about anywhere. Marines at Marine Heavy Helicopter Training Squadron 302, Marine Aircraft Group 29, 2nd Marine Air Wing, are training to do just that each day.
The squadron, alongside the helicopter support team from Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, conducted external-lift exercises, March 4.
“At the end of the day, we’re all here to support the infantry,” said Maj. Anthony Quitugua, an aircraft refresher pilot with HMHT-302, “It’s our job to get the [infantry] what they need so they can engage, close with and destroy the enemy.”
Every year, dozens of Marines pass through the squadron before they are sent off to their permanent duty station. In their time with HMHT-302, they receive specialized training on how to operate the CH-53 while deployed abroad. Not only do new pilots come through the training squadron, but veteran Marine pilots return each year to get recertified and refine their skills.
Quitugua, a 15 year veteran, returned to the squadron in order to get the necessary flying time and instruction that is required to fly the aircraft.
“Each year, you have to fly so many times in certain training environments to stay up to date,” said Quitugua, a McGuire, New Jersey, native.
During each Marine’s fly-time, an aircraft instructor sits in the cockpit alongside them and evaluates their execution. The instructor watches closely to make sure that the helicopter support team on the ground can safely and efficiently do their job.
“We have Marines on the ground training too, so safety is paramount,” said Capt. Joseph Scheler, an aircraft commander with HMHT 302.
The training allows the groundside to work hand-in-hand with the air wing.
“Everyone is getting a chance to train and that’s always a good thing,” said Scheler, a Murrysville, Pennsylvania native.
During the exercise, the helicopter support team attached both single and dual point cables hanging from the CH-53 to an 8,500 pound I-Beam, a metal rod with hooks attached that the Marines use to simulate a supply load, before the helicopter pilots practiced extracting and inserting the load from a field.
Quitugua said the exercise simulates a combat situation where Marines may need food or ammo and the only way to get it is through a helicopter.
“Marines in a combat situation depend on us to get them the supplies they need in order to bring the fight home,” said Quitugua. “It could all come down to a life or death situation and it’s in our hands.”