Most Viewed Stories
Reporter gets bird's-eye view from Sea Knight
Old CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters should leak fluids a little, a Marine told me as I waited to board the aircraft Friday afternoon at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. If they aren't leaking, then you should worry, he continued.
I thought about that as I followed Lance Cpl. Justin Yaroch up the rear ramp to take a guided tour of the Yuma area. The tour was given to highlight the bi-annual Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) Course taught by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1.
I took a seat in the front left of the cabin, strapped on my seat belt and donned a helmet. Other civilians taking the tour did the same around me. They included Superintendant Darwin Stiffler of Yuma School District 1, Yuma City Councilmember Cody Beeson and Mike Erfert of the Yuma Fire Department.
The pilots for our flight were Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell and Capt. Dunn. The crew included both Yaroch and Lance Corp. Muhammad Nasser. The crew is assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron-164 based at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The squadron's call sign is the “Knightriders.”
Campbell welcomed us aboard and spoke about the importance of WTI. Every six months, thousands of Marines come to Yuma to sharpen their combat skills and battlefield knowledge. This prepares them for real-world combat situations around the globe. The training is so important, Marines serving in Afghanistan are brought here to participate.
As the helicopter blades chopped the air and the fuselage rumbled, I began to think about the Marines who board CH-46E helicopters not for a tour, but to be ferried into combat. What do they think about when they are on their way to risk life and limb while strapped in the belly of a Sea Knight?
We received permission to lift off, and we steadily rose above the tarmac. I looked out the window and watched as the cars on 32nd Street become mere toys, and buildings became models.
We flew to the east and passed over Arizona Western College before turning to the northwest to fly over the Historic North End. We then approached Kiwanis Park on 8th Street and Magnolia Avenue. The Marines would conduct exercises there later in the evening.
Yaroch invited me to sit in his seat, which was near an open window. I moved there and began snapping photos as the warm desert air flowed over me. We flew to Somerton and then east again toward the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range.
The open desert is beautiful when seen from the air. Its wide expanses stretch off into the horizon. I could imagine Gen. George Patton and a legion of green World War II-era tanks speeding through the sand in the early 1940s, preparing to battle Erwin Rommel, “the Desert Fox,” in North Africa.
“There is plenty of space to train here,” I said to Campbell over the radio. He agreed, and added that is one of the reasons why Yuma is such an excellent place to prepare military units for combat.
At the Goldwater Range, we flew over Auxiliary Airfield II, which includes a replica of an aircraft carrier deck, complete with a flight control tower. On the ground, Marines were preparing fuel tankers on the flight line. The helicopters participating in the exercise at Kiwanis Park would come here to refuel before continuing their mission.
We also observed a faux village erected in the desert nearby. It is complete with many buildings, and narrow roads surrounded by tall walls. Combat troops use the facility to prepare for street battles in Afghanistan, Campbell explained.
Looking down at the alleyways, I imagined a group of Marines pinned down and under fire from insurgents — a sobering thought reminding me of those who are still fighting and dying in service to their country.
We then traveled back to MCAS Yuma, and the pilots brought us down for a very smooth landing. I had to look out the window to know we were back on terra firma.
Campbell thanked us for allowing the military to train in our community, and I thanked him for taking the time to show us a sight only pilots and birds are privy to.
After I stepped off the back ramp, I shook Yaroch's hand and walked toward the exit. It was a few minutes later when someone pointed at the white shirt I was wearing. Oil had dripped on it.
I smiled and thought, “old CH-46E helicopters should leak. If they aren't leaking, then you should worry.” I'm glad it leaked...
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.