USS NEW ORLEANS, At sea - Aircraft from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's (MEU) Aviation Combat Element (ACE) embarked the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) Sept. 3 as part of the Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) off the coast of Southern California.
The embarkation involved three CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters assigned to the Red Dragons of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 268, and is the first aviation phase of COMPUTEX which helps prepare New Orleans and the 11th MEU for a scheduled deployment later this year.
"The training we do here with basic troop insertions; visit, board, search and seizure evolutions and long range helo raids will help us get familiar with working on a smaller ship," said Staff Sgt. Carlos Ruiz, an ACE crew chief for HMM-268's Sea Knights. "This is the first time we've been on a small deck in a really long time. Having this training gives us extra flexibility."
The CH-46 is designed as a medium-life cargo helicopter that provides assault support and transports Marines, supplies and equipment between bases from ship to shore during amphibious operations.
Ruiz said he was looking forward to working on a smaller ship and stressed the importance of the training.
"Not only does it help Navy air crewmen get familiar with landing a Marine helicopter, but it also helps the Marine pilots land on a smaller platform," he said.
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) Airman Ameyaw Obarima said working with the Marines will help increase the interoperability of the two services, creating one cohesive team.
"They're a very disciplined force," he said. "Since they have their (helicopters) on board already, it's going to be a lot easier for us to get things done around here. They help augment what we do, and by the time deployment comes around it's going to be easy."
Cmdr. Kreg Kelly, executive officer of New Orleans, said the ability of Navy flight deck personnel and Marine pilots to work well with each other is vital for successful integration.
"The full integration of U.S. Marine aircraft and a U.S. Navy warship, specifically built to harness and project that power, is awesome to behold," he said. "New Orleans' Sailors and Marines make it look easy."
New Orleans is assigned to Amphibious Squadron 5, and along with embarked Marines assigned to the 11th MEU, are part of the Makin Island Amphibious Readiness Group.
Commissioned in 2007, USS New Orleans is the second of the San Antonio-class transport dock ships. Its warfighting capabilities include a state-of-the-art command and control suite, substantially increased vehicle lift capacity, a large flight deck, and advanced ship survivability features that enhance its ability to operate in the littoral environment.