Mosquitoes and other unseen pests that saturate the stale morning air, migrate from arm to arm, face to face. Heat of the previous day gave way to dismal rain, which seemed to pierce Marines with the force of a M82 bomb. The digital camouflage covering of the Marines’ Kevlar helmets were drenched with water and large drops culminated on their brims. As the rain streamed down their face and behind their eye protection, it caused lenses to fog, disrupting the view of a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter hovering above.
Since its birth in 1964, the dual-rotor helicopter has provided training and operational support to military personnel in any weather, day or night. Its primary function is assault support, but for the Marines with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, it is the preferred casualty evacuation vehicle.
As the aircraft landed, water and mud sprayed from beneath the Sea Knight’s belly like particles of a fragmentation grenade. Mud now replaced the water and fog on Pfc. Sonny Robertson’s eye protection as he bent to lift the casualty.
“All right, three, two, one,” he said.
Four Marines lifted a stretcher, bearing the the full weight of a casualty wearing a full combat load. The burden only added to an already irritable environment. The combination of the helicopter’s rotor wash, ankle-deep pools of rain and the strain of the Marine’s body armor created a unique training scenario.
As the Marines rushed the casualty to the aircraft, their knowledge became experience.
“Casualty training and being able to deal with combat casualties will come into play during any deployment,” explained Robertson, catching his breath whenever he could. “Having the helicopter here and being able to talk to them on the radio allowed us to grasp the severity of the scenario.”
The likeliness of a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan remains ever-present in their minds. Marines use the day’s weather as another mental challenge to gage stress and how they may deal with certain obstacles. Rain here reminds some of the cold mountain climate in Afghanistan and the wind is comparable to a fierce sand storm in Iraq.
Alhough Marines carrying the stretcher were moving quickly, it seemed their movements unfolded at half the speed. Their boots slowly emerged from the mud leaving a crater in its place only to slosh into a new crevice. This slowed their progress. The weather made it difficult, but no more difficult than the obstacles they may face in war.
Nothing about the day was normal.
“This is unique for just calling in a casualty for training,” stressed 1st Lt. Chris Scott, Fox Company executive officer. “We have the actual loading of a casualty instead of the [hypothetical helicopter] in the landing zone, and the tools out here that they are going to be seeing in country.”
The chatter of the rain on the cold iron of a Humvee matched the static of the field radio Marines used to communicate with the helicopter.
“Providing landing zone briefs and describing the terrain to the pilot is a critical step in a casualty scenario,” Robertson said.
After focusing on the task at hand, Marines seemed to forget about the rain-filled sky or the irritation of mosquitoes clenching to their skin. Once again, mud and water spat from beneath the CH-46 spraying the Marines as the aircraft lifted from the field.
A Marine reached up and removed his eye protection, wiping away the fog he hadn’t noticed during the training. The rain still fell from the sky, the air still smelled of helicopter exhaust and Marines still had a 700-meter walk back to their staging area through the muddy puddles only to continue training for war.