KANGAROO FLATS TRAINING AREA, Northern Territory, Australia -- The thick fog shrouding the wetlands of the Northern Territory concealed events happening above and below its cloudy mass.
These events would come together as one; above, three CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters carried 27 Marines from K Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/1 to what was waiting below: two downed pilots and 15 to 20 enemy forces looking for the pilots.
The mission of the K Co. Marines, who are part of 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), was to conduct a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel. It was all a matter of getting there first with the most, and getting out quickly.
"Our job is to basically beat the enemy to the pilot," said 1st Lt. Tim Brady, 25, of Clifton, Va. The lieutenant was the ground combat element commander on the mission. "The TRAP force will provide security in the landing zone, fight off the enemy if necessary and recover the downed pilot."
Staff Sgt. Joseph Roach, the platoon sergeant, put it succinctly: "We've got 27 Marines going in; we're going to have 29 people coming out."
To that end, the TRAP force embarked on a 35-minute flight to the area where the pilots were. As soon as the Sea Knights landed, a force hidden in the brush about 100 yards to the left of the Marines began firing on them. The Marines' tactical discipline served them well, as they immediately located the threat and advanced toward the ambush, while at the same time a team brought in a stretcher to bring out one of the pilots, who was wounded.
Once the team reached the pilots, other Marines established security around them, while two AH-1W Cobras helped supress the threat from the "enemy," which were really Australian Army soldiers (as were the pilots). One pilot could walk, but the other had debilitating injuries and had to be carried. Four Marines quickly stabilized him, loaded him on the stretcher, and with the security element moving around them, ran back to the landing zone, where a yellow smoke grenade was set off to mark the LZ for the returning Sea Knights.
By this time, the fire from the Aussie interlopers had been silenced, and with the Cobras continuing to fly cover, the medium cargo and troop carrying helicopters landed. The Marines, with the two pilots in tow, quickly boarded and the helicopters took off.
The TRAP, from the time the Ch-46s first landed until they took off again, took less than five minutes.
"That's what the mission calls for," 1st Lt. Brady said. "We are supposed to get in there and get the guy out."
"It's not a time to stand and fight," SSgt. Roach said. "The speed of the operation reduces the danger for all parties concerned."
The three cargo and two attack helicopters flew off above the fog, bringing with them the prize that, just a few minutes before, had been hidden below.