ABOARD USS PELELIU (LHA-5) --
The Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-165 (REIN), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, have been maintaining their operational readiness aboard USS Peleliu (LHA 5), even as the 15th MEU heads east on the final leg of its deployment.
With daily maintenance and flights launched from the flight deck aboard USS Peleliu, the Marines of HMM-165 (REIN) continue to refine their skills as the Aviation Combat Element of the 15th MEU according to Capt. Preston W. Stephens, a CH-46E Pilot with HMM-165.
“As far as the pilots go, we’re keeping our currency to fly off the ship and over water with passengers. We have to fly every few days to make sure we maintain proficiency,” said Stephens, a native of Pensacola, Florida.
Before departing on a deployment, the ACE received many training objectives to complete before returning home, according to Stephens. Ship take-offs and landings, night operations and desert maneuvers are a few of the main points of readiness, according to Stephens.
With just a short time left before returning home, the Marines of the ACE are trying to get as much done as possible before departing USS Peleliu, Stephens added.
“Before we deploy, there is a laundry list of things to get accomplished, and here at the end of the deployment, we’re [refining what] we can before we get off ship” Stephens said.
The ACE, a combination of CH-46E Sea Knight, CH-53E Sea Stallion, UH-1N Huey, AH-1W Cobra helicopters, and a detachment of AV-8B Harriers, provides the 15th MEU Commander a variety of assets to apply to any situation which calls for aviation support, according to Stephens. The 15th MEU as a whole could not operate as effectively without the support the ACE provides, Stephens added.
The crew agrees, according to Sgt. Lea M. Booth, a CH-53E Crew Chief with HMM-165 (REIN). The ability to transfer Marines from ship to shore is one of the most important functions of any aviation asset of the 15th MEU, Booth said.
“Obviously, the ACE is part of the [Marine Air Ground Task Force], and we’re pretty versatile. The Harriers have their role, the [CH-46s] have their role, the CH-53s have their role and the [AH-1W Cobras] have their role and we all have our niche,” Booth said. “The most important thing is we get boots on the ground and we do it fast.”
Furthermore, in the waning weeks of deployment, the Marines of the 15th MEU must maintain operational readiness for any contingency, according to Booth. While the end of the deployment is in sight, the Marines must stay ready to accomplish any mission during this deployment and beyond, Booth said.
“We could get turned around. Also, there is the fact that when we get back all the maintainers and aircrews are going back to various deployable squadrons,” Booth said. “There is no telling when we will deploy next, so we have to keep current and keep flying so our skills are up to par for the next time we do deploy.”
The Camp Pendleton, Calif. based 15th MEU is comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is a forward deployed force in readiness capable of conducting numerous operations, such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Humanitarian Assistance Operations and a wide range of amphibious missions. The 15th MEU is currently deployed aboard the USS Peleliu (LHA-5), USS Dubuque (LPD-8) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52).