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HMM-263 gets "gassed" in Djiboutian skies

By Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald | | January 30, 2003

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CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -Two CH-53Es from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron - 263 demonstrated their capabilities by "gassing up" in mid-air while carrying two High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV's) during an aerial refueling exercise Jan. 30 in the skies over Djibouti.The heavy-lift helicopters, from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron - 772, a reserve squadron based in Willow Grove, Pa., are attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)in support of Operation Enduring Freedom."The purpose of the long-range raid with external load exercise was to demonstrate the capabilities of the CH-53," said Maj. Andrew Seay, a CH-53 pilot and division leader. The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter is capable of lifting 16 tons of equipment, transporting it more than 50 miles and returning to its base. However, with aerial refueling, the helicopter's maximum range is nearly unlimited.Seay, a Vernon, Ala., native, explained that organizing an exercise of this magnitude is logistically challenging because there are many moving parts."It can be difficult trying to get a C-130 (Air Force C-130 Hercules airplane) and Humvees to work with, but the Army has been really great about lending us Humvees to carry," he said. During the evolution, Staff Sgt. Joe D. Starkey, of Tecumseh, Mich., and his fellow crewchiefs provided extra eyes to the pilots in order to keep track of the other helicopters during flight and any other threats to the Super Stallion. It's also the job of a crewchief to take care of passengers so everyone arrives at the destination safe and sound.Starkey explained why this training is important, "If there was a real-world situation and a unit needed to get a thousand miles with one-hundred Marines and four Humvees in a timely manner, we could do it with two CH-53s. Aerial refueling really helps because we could fly for as long as needed."The training was also a learning opportunity for other members of the unit."Our aircraft mechanics and the other Marines who keep the birds flying were able to come up with us and see what the CH-53 can do," said Seay. "They have done a really outstanding job keeping the birds in good, working order, so this was as much for them as it was for us."
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