Have Guns, Will Travel

With a blanket of bullets zipping over their heads and the sound of enemy mortars getting closer and closer, ground forces realize there is only one way out: Fly in the “big guns.”

“We are pinned down. We need close air support now,” said a shaky voice over the radio.

“Copy that. We’re on our way,” was the reply.

A few minutes later, two helicopters in the distant sky came flying in — ready to engage the enemy.

Then two quick, yet earth shaking booms sounded. Then there was silence.

This combat situation paints a picture of how Marines on the ground can utilize close air support to help repel an enemy’s assault.

To help prepare for such a scenario, Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, dubbed the “Gunrunners,” train in one of their mission essential tasks – offensive air support with the UH-1N “Huey” helicopter.

“It’s that centerpiece of what we do to support the (Marine Air Ground Task Force),” said Capt. Ryan T. Roche, HML/A-269 future operations officer. “It’s probably not a bad feeling when a young Marine on the ground, who’s in need of close air support, sees or hears rotors coming over his shoulder to apply more pressure to the threat.

“We’re like a flying weapons company in support of the guys on the ground,” added Roche, a native of Jacksonville, N.C. “We are Marines flying for Marines on the ground.”

One of the weapons the “Huey” uses in their training exercises is the LAU-68 rocket launcher. Each individual rocket launcher can hold up to seven 2.75 inch rockets.

“It’s motivating and exciting to shoot the rockets,” said Roche. “It really opens your eyes when those rockets come off. It’s like throwing a mortar at something.”

Another option in the “Huey’s” arsenal used to suppress the enemy is the M-240D machine gun. The crew-served weapon, manned by a crew chief, is capable of shooting 650 to 950 rounds per minute.

“It’s empowering. There is really nothing else like it,” said Sgt. Corey Lee, a HML/A-269 crew chief and native of Sturgis, Mich. “What’s better than getting behind a gun? We’re getting paid to fly around and blow stuff up. I bet a civilian would pay $10,000 to do a (close air support) flight.”

Cpl. Cody J. Nyegaard, a vehicle commander with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, knows firsthand about having helicopters back him up in combat.

“It’s definitely helpful, because they could see a lot more than we could,” said Nyegaard, a native of Silverton, N.J. “They have the firepower to back us up if we ever need it and they scare the enemy. The enemy tends to keep their heads down and not shoot at us when there is a helicopter right above them. It’s good to know someone in the sky can see farther down the road than we can.”

With squadrons like the “Gunrunners” around, Marines on the ground have reassurance someone is providing support from above.

“We respect the guy on the ground who has a rifle against his shoulder and is moving forward,” said Roche. “There’s no better place than to be right over his shoulder trying to help him.”


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