NAVAL AIR FACILITY EL CENTRO, Calif. -- The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Aviation Combat Element recently took it's show on the road to satisfy a combat readiness requirement and prove they are ready to deploy.
For four days, Marines and Sailors of the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 "White Knights" took their aircraft and personnel to the air facility here to undergo a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation. The MCCRE is required by the Marine Corps prior to attaching to a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
HMM-165 has been tasked as the 15th MEU's ACE for their next deployment. In addition to their own medium-sized CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters, the squadron will also receive numerous different aircraft, equipment and support personnel before starting pre-deployment workups with the MEU this summer.
Overall, the unit was evaluated on their ability to deploy on short notice with all required personnel and equipment and their ability to perform basic required missions. Many of the missions mirrored what the squadron could be called to do in a hostile environment during the deployment.
"The MCCRE enables us to focus on planning, briefing and execution of missions in a rapid manner," said Maj Todd J. Oneto, 41, the operations officer of Wallingford, Conn. "We are able to focus our efforts on how to successfully conduct rapid planning to support our Marines in an unpredictable environment."
Before coming to the desert, the squadron did a great deal of internal training to get ready for the evaluation, Oneto said. "A warrior mentality is well-established long in advance of this event. After this MCCRE, this squadron will be prepared for war."
One challenge the squadron had to overcome during the prep for this evaluation and the upcoming deployment was the enormous turnover of personnel. "We've experienced a great deal of turnover within the last few months, however we still have a lot of experienced Marines from OIF," according to Cpl Katherine M. Roy, 23, a flight equipment technician from Duluth, Minn. "Having a major turnover of personnel has it's challenges while training."
The last time this squadron deployed was to Operation Iraqi Freedom and they had very little time to prepare. "From my last deployment (during OIF), I only had four weeks to prepare. Now, I've learned to be better prepared for the unexpected."
This was no "cake walk" for the squadron personnel either. "My biggest challenge is working in such austere conditions, since we don't have the same resources while in garrison," according to Lance Cpl. Adrian R. Beeman, 23, an operations clerk from Bath, N.Y. "I've had to challenge myself to become more resourceful while here at El Centro."
Sometimes the challenges create new procedures or other ways to track critical information. Beeman pointed out the difficulties in tracking Night Vision Goggle training so he created a solution. "I created a tracking system on how to track flight time and night vision goggle training," he said. "I'm just satisfied that I'm able to use everything I've learned coming straight from MOS training."
Most of the squadron will agree that the teamwork displayed was crucial when accomplishing the missions. During the MCCRE, pilots stepped out of their traditional role and assisted the operations Marines in mission planning. "I've been assisting in flight operations and operational planning during this event," said Capt Luis M. Gomez, 33, a CH-46 pilot from nearby Blythe. "We have been extensively working in mission planning to analyze information critical for commanders and fellow pilots to make important decisions while flying over the battlefield."
When assisting in the planning of certain missions, Gomez said he really appreciated the detailed nature of rapid planning. "During the MCCRE, we analyze possible enemy threats, current unit operations, and updated rules of engagement while factoring in the unexpected enemy threat," Gomez said. "Our next deployment will be challenging. When we leave, this will be my 4th deployment and the 2nd one with this squadron."