NEWS | Nov. 2, 2010

Crew chiefs draw on training for humanitarian mission

By Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper , 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs


U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Chance Trombetti, a 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit CH-46 Sea Knight pilot conducts post-flight inspections on a CH-46 Sea Knight at Pano Aqil Cantonment, Pakistan. The U.S. Marine Corps’ 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units have been operating CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters in the Sindh province since early September bringing relief supplies to those in need. Since Aug. 5, U.S. military helicopters have transported more than 12 million pounds of supplies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kali Gradishar)



PANO AQIL CANTONMENT, Pakistan (October 27, 2010) — For more than a year, CH-46 Sea Knight crew chiefs are taught and tested on every aspect of their career field – from the mechanics of the Sea Knight to flight operations – before they actually enter into the world of being a crew chief. 

In training, scenarios are given to represent possible real-world situations. But until those real-world situations present themselves, training often involves preparing for the unexpected. Since the U.S. Marine Corps HMM-165-Reinforced, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived at Pano Aqil Cantonment, Pakistan, to support the Pakistan government and military flood relief operations, they have put that training to use.

“We did a lot of heavy preparation for this deployment so we could come out with no issues to fly to the fullest capability,” said Lance Cpl. Nicholas Zeigler, a 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit CH-46 Sea Knight crew chief with more than 600 flight hours. 

“We did a lot of [confined area landing] training when we were in Camp Pendleton, [Calif.]. In training we were required to land in a small area, clearing the pilots left and right as if we were landing 15 feet from power lines or near a wall,” said the lance corporal, who has been in the Marine Corps three years as of Sept. 11. “Operations here have been a true utilization of all that training.”

The first destination for the CH-46s and the 15th MEU to support relief operations was Ghazi Air Base in northern Pakistan. The Marines began making the transition south to Pano Aqil Cantonment in early September. Though the geography between the two areas is vastly different, there were still similarities in the missions the Marines encountered.

“Around Ghazi, the people were out in the hills where roads were cut off, bridges were destroyed, and a lot of houses near the river were taken out,” said Cpl. Dominic Camacho, a 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit CH-46 Sea Knight crew chief. “It’s different here because it’s mostly flat land, but it’s the same because there are a lot of people affected here, too, with fields and homes under water.”

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s CH-46 aircrews and maintainers have been working around the clock alongside 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit CH-53 Super Stallion aircrew and maintainers, which arrived in October, as well as all the support functions required to maintain a steady flow of operations. 

Since early September, Marines at Pano Aqil Cantonment have been bringing relief supplies to people in need to sustain themselves now and hopefully through the winter. Transporting that many supplies means an intense pace for the 15th and 26th MEU’s to try to reach as many people as possible.

“We were [initially] doing five runs, delivering over 10,000 pounds of food, or 20,000 pounds between the two [aircraft]. That was standard for the first three weeks we were here, and the tempo has remained very high, very fast-paced,” said Zeigler, a native of Olathe, Kan. “Of the places we’ve landed, some of the towns are intact, but they are completely surrounded by water and all the roads to that town are washed out. It’s like seeing 150 to 200 people on an island. So we were dropping off what we could to those people who were isolated.”

Whether it’s doing confined area landings or basic maintenance, the Marines are applying the vast training they receive to good use as they scour the submerged Sindh province for dry spots to land to deliver relief supplies. 

“We trained for quite some time before we deployed, and being here really changes the tone of what we’re doing – it’s more visceral and validates what we’ve gone through,” said Zeigler, “Plus we’re getting the opportunity to help people. 

“It’s rewarding to be helping Pakistan in the aftermath of this natural disaster – to be out here feeding people and putting out training to use,” he said.