CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti --
A Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopter flew back to the U.S. this week in the belly of an Air Force C-5 Galaxy cargo jet. The mission returned the helicopter to its home station in North Carolina by way of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, S.C.
The C-5, which belongs to the Air Force’s 337th Airlift Squadron from Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., was detailed here to take the CH-53E home. From start to finish, it took a little more than four days to retrieve the helicopter.
This type of load is unusual for heavy-lift helicopter squadrons and Galaxy crews, and the Airmen and Marines involved with this particular lift hadn’t worked in this type of interoperable environment much before now.
Marine Capt. Christopher Bedzis is an HMH-464, Det. A, pilot based at MCAS New River, N.C. Bedzis has been assigned to the HOA mission since August, primarily flying Combat Search and Rescue and humanitarian assistance missions.
“We were able to work with the Air Force, Army and Navy just about every day. It’s something we don’t normally get to do, so when we get to do it … it’s a pretty neat option for us,” said Bedzis. “These helicopters have been a great asset to have here. Their aerial refueling capacity has allowed us to reach well over the horizon. That allowed for a longer range on Medical -- and Veterinary -- Civil Action Program missions.”
The Galaxy’s loadmaster, Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Hellyar, likes this sort of challenge. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and these missions don’t come up very often,” Hellyar said. “It’s something different. We’re working with the other services here, and it’s nice when we get an opportunity like this.”
Hellyar said there were two pallets of parts onboard the Galaxy in addition to the helicopter. “The C-5 has a max load of two (CH-53s). It’s the biggest cargo plane in the Air Force inventory, and can carry 270,000 lbs. of cargo.”
Camp Lemonier, located slightly southeast of Djibouti City, Djibouti, is the home of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. Nearly every CJTF-HOA mission is joint, and this transport assignment is an example of that interoperability.