CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- Marine Aircraft Group-Afghanistan has different air assets contributing to the last operations in Regional Command (Southwest), and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467 brings the multirole versatility needed for combat operations in southern Afghanistan.
The unit, known as the Sabers, is currently deployed from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and is comprised of Marines with varying specialties to man and maintain the AH-1W Cobras and UH-1Y Hueys. The squadron was established five years ago and is on its first combat deployment.
Although many people envision pilots and crew chiefs when they think of a squadron, the Marines back on the ground in the hangars and shops are just as important as the guys in the air.
“My job entails safety of the aircraft and to make sure that everything electrically is done to our standard,” said Cpl. Brandon Ferger, an avionics technician with HMLA-467. “We make sure everything is safe for flight, and the pilots can get out for their mission to support the units on the ground.”
Almost everything on the aircraft is avionics related, and if something is wrong the helicopter is not safe to fly, which means the aircraft and crew are unable to fly to support any ground units who might need them, explained Ferger.
“I enjoy (my job) a lot,” said Ferger, a native of Mansfield, Ohio. “Best part of my job is when I work on something for a long time; I find what fixes it, and I feel good about myself because I can get that aircraft back in the fight.”
Getting the Cobras and Hueys of HMLA-467 back in the fight is something every Marine in the unit takes to heart when doing their daily jobs.
“We work with the air frame, hydraulics and flight controls for the Huey and the Cobra,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Perkins, an air frames mechanic with HMLA-467. “If a bird’s not capable of flying, missions can’t be completed. If we have a (troops in contact) alarm that goes off, we have to ensure every bird is up and ready to go. Back home pilots go up for training purposes, but out here it’s the real thing and moves at a lot quicker pace.”
Perkins explained the work tempo is much faster than back at MCAS Cherry Point, but that has not hindered him and his fellow Marines from completing their daily tasks.
“I’ve always tried to move as fast as possible, so for me the faster pace isn’t something hard for me to get used to,” said Perkins, a native of New Hope, Alabama. “Just like all other shops, every shop has its own job; if that job isn’t completed then the aircraft will not be up.”
One of the shops keeping the aircraft in the air is the flightline shop, ensuring all tasks are completed and maintenance is supervised as well.
“Without the flightline shop we wouldn’t be able to be doing what we’re doing out here,” said Cpl. Jordan Danielson, a collateral duty quality assurance representative with HMLA-467, and a native of Delta, Colorado. “We take care of everything; we are the people that make sure that these birds can fly.”
The missions the Sabers conduct in support of combat operations within RC(SW) provide flexibility for the troops on the ground.
“There’s no other unit in the Marine Corps that provides what an HMLA can provide,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lee, a senior crew chief with HMLA-467 and a native of Redondo Beach, California. “We bring both the attack and the lift portion; with the utility platform of the Huey we can do multi-role missions. You don’t get that from the (CH53-E Super Stallions) or the (MV-22) Ospreys or any other platform, so we provide the versatility that the ground commanders need from a rotary-wing platform.”
While flight hours in a noncombat environment are more focused on training, the switch to combat operations has kept the Sabers thinking on their toes since their arrival during May 2014.
“The most challenging thing since we’ve been out here has been an adjustment to the tempo because the second you’re checking into work it’s go, go, go,” said Cpl. Joseph Bowman, a UH-1Y Huey crew chief. “It’s definitely more of a wakeup call when you hear guys over the radio say, ‘Hey we need help. We’re getting shot at from this area.’”
Though missions are being tasked and completed on a daily basis to support Marines on the ground in the fight, the squadron is still thinking about the near future and planning for the squadron’s retrograde and redeployment.
“Everything back in the rear is a little more cut and dry, stuff that has been done time and time again,” said Sgt. Ross Hodish, the squadron embark chief for HMLA-467. “I’m responsible for determining what can stay, what we need to get rid of and what needs to come back with those helicopters, in addition, getting those helicopters on an aircraft.”
As retrograde planning is spinning up, Hodish explains he only has 10 Marines working directly with him who are solely dedicated to ensuring all gear and personnel are accounted for and making sure timelines for shipping those items back to the states are efficiently met.
“The S-4 in general, embark and logistics side, at any given point in time we will be the most hated and sought after section in the entire HMLA because we’re out there telling them, ‘Hey you need to get rid of stuff,’ but at the same time they need stuff from us to ensure that they can get their job done,” said Hodish, a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. “For the most part, we’re doing a (great) job there getting the shops everything they need, making sure our operations run as smooth as possible, and we have all the necessary gear that we need to make sure we can still fly birds and support operations.”
“There’s a 30-second window that makes me more proud than anything when we’re sitting on the taxiway just waiting to go,” said Bowman, a native of Las Vegas. “Then when they give you clearance and you just feel the nose of the aircraft just dip down and you take off and everything kind of goes silent. It’s my serenity.”
Although the Sabers have only been a squadron for five years and are on their first combat deployment, the pride they hold in their jobs seems to reflect that of a squadron that has been around the Corps for many years.
“I feel honored; our squadron’s first deployment overseas gets to be the last for the HMLAs (in Afghanistan),” said Capt. David Faville, an AH-1W Cobra pilot with HMLA-467. “It is keeping our deployment very busy with the moves and retrogrades, helping us fight off the grind that I think most units run into midway. We are extremely lucky to be given the chance to get out here.”