Story by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel
CAMP PENDLETON, Ca. – One thing that sets the Marine Corps apart from other branches of the military is their creed that every Marine is a rifleman. Each Marine demonstrates their skill with an M16-A4 service rifle or an M4 carbine during annual qualifications, but there are some job fields that require abilities with slightly larger weapons.
Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 (HMLA-169), Marine Aircraft Group 39, conducted weapons proficiency training aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 17, 2015.
Unlike the annual rifle qualification, this training was conducted in a UH-1Y Huey helicopter, and instead of M16s, they shot M240D and GAU-17 machine guns as well as laser guided rockets with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System.
“Today we did introductory exercises for both the crew chiefs and the pilots,” said Sgt. Elizabeth Azcuenaga, an enlisted aircrew training manager with HMLA-169, MAG 39. “We’re just getting them warmed up to the basic attack profiles.”
The training consisted of repeatedly attacking a specified target using different methods of approach. These attack profiles employ each of the weapons systems on the aircraft appropriately.
“Training like this is vital,” said Azcuenaga. “If the crew chiefs and pilots don’t get the practice they need at the basic level before a more tactical situation, it puts both the guys on the ground and in the air at risk.”
One Huey pilot, 1st Lt. Daniel Wilde, had only been with HMLA-169 a few months before participating in this training.
“I did a couple of runs like this back in the training squadron, but I pretty much doubled my rocket shots today,” said Wilde. “I’m looking for training value and the best way to get that is through repetition.”
Azcuenaga described the exercise as a building block and Wilde agreed that there is no substitute for experience.
“The senior guys have the exact same posture every time and they can just eyeball the shot without using the rocket redical,” said Wilde. “They can literally just sit in their seat and know where their rockets are going to hit.”
The proficiency these Marines are working to develop could help save the lives of Marines in a vast array of deadly scenarios.
“I chose the Huey because we do the double mission,” said Wilde. “We have the power and the space to do assault support and pick up the guys on the ground, but we also get to shoot.”
Wilde added that for him, the next step is to go into more detailed mission planning, but he’s only just getting started. Since the unit was commissioned in 1971, HMLA-169 has conducted countless successful missions from the Gulf War to the War on Terror. They flew more than 200 combat sorties in 10 days during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm without loss of aircraft or personnel. HMLA-169 has excelled in past conflicts and will continue to do so in the future.