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HMLA 773 loads up, rolls out

By Airman 1st Class Sean M. Crowe | | August 29, 2013

Members from three of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773's detachments deployed with two of their UH-1N Hueys Aug. 19, 2013, to Spain then Rotterdam, Netherlands from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Marines and Sailors from the unit will work with Dutch, Spanish and British marines on a Dutch amphibious assault ship to perform theater security cooperation missions and train several African countries' militaries.

"It's my first time deploying in a non-combat role," said Marine Lt. Col. Charles Watkins, HMLA-773 pilot and officer in charge of the Security Cooperation Task Force. "None of us have ever deployed in a training capacity. It will be interesting to build relations with African and NATO forces."

Some aspects make this a very unique deployment.

"This will be the first time U.S. armed forces deploy on a Dutch ship," said Watkins, a Georgetown, N.Y., native. "It will also be the last deployment for the UH-1N Huey as the Marines Reserves are switching to the UH-1Y model. The new aircraft will have four rotor blades and engine upgrades."

SCTF is split into two elements, an air element, which comprises mainly JB MDL Marines who will provide casualty evacuation capabilities; and Camp Lejeune Marines, who will fill any ground capabilities.

"The JB MDL Marines flew to Camp Lejeune to train the ground element," said Watkins. "We also participated in the Combat Lifesaver course here to prepare us for the deployment."

The Marines will make their way along Africa's west coast stopping in Morocco, Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. They will train these militaries on topics including: amphibious assault landings, jungle warfare, hand-to-hand combat, humanitarian assistance and non-combatant evacuations.

"This will be my second deployment off the coast of Africa," said Cpl. Stephen Fisher, 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion fireteam leader from Camp Lejeune. "I'm looking forward to this deployment more because I will get to go on shore unlike last time."

The consensus among the Marines seems to be that it should be an enjoyable deployment providing learning experiences for all.

"It will be nice doing a different mission than just combat," said Watkins. "It will be a great learning experience through teaching."
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