Maneuvering beneath the line of artillery and mortar rounds, supporting ground units making their way to the landing zone, and tracking the location of the AV-8B Harrier jets flying just overhead is a lot to do at one time.
This is what Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, the “Iron Horse," is doing at the Enhanced Mojave Viper training center in Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Six aircraft from HMH-461 departed for EMV, Sept. 30, and officially started a three week-long desert combat training exercise, Oct. 5. Their mission at EMV is to support the ground units during the air-ground training operations.
“When we went to Enhanced Mojave Viper last year, we experienced a lot of what we actually do in combat situations,” said Capt. Ronald J. Dagenhart, maintenance officer for HMH-461, prior to taking off for the training. “We flew over gun lines, and when we looked to our left, there were mortars and when we looked to our right there was artillery. It was really interesting getting to train with all the aspects of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”
Dagenhart, who will be flying as pilot instead of copilot this year, expects similar training.
“For us, Mojave Viper is an opportunity to work without any distractions, and train with Marines from all over the Corps,” said Dagenhart. “It brings everyone into the mix.”
The squadron completed EMV training last year, so this year, they will be focusing on facilitating the ground units’ desert combat training.
“We’re going to provide the heavy lifting asset for the Marines on the ground,” said Dagenhart. “Even though this will mainly be for the ground asset, this will be a great refresher for us.”
In addition to training with ground and air units, the Marines get to utilize the desert geography of Twentynine Palms.
“The whole training area is a desert,” said Dagenhart. “And flying there is a lot different than flying in North Carolina. Over there it’s just mountains and ridge lines, and it gets extremely dark at night.”
Mojave Viper’s desert climate presents interesting challenges to the Iron Horse Marines. But it’s those experiences that keep HMH-461 combat ready.
“This training helps us improve on our overall functionality,” said Dagenhart. “We even utilize the gun range at the training center while we’re there to help us train in multiple aspects of the mission.”
The Marines currently at EMV aren’t the only Iron Horse Marines who gained experience from the desert excursion.
“It’s a major movement,” said Dagenhart. “Having six aircraft leave the air station is a big deal. Everyone from maintenance to logistics is dealing with our detachment to Twentynine Palms. It’s good experience for them.”
The EMV training is slated to end, Oct. 26, and the Iron Horse Marines will return home shortly thereafter.
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