USMC - In Mourning

Earlier this morning, a Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion went down in the desert outside the town of Rutbah - around 220 miles to the west of Baghdad (as seen on the map below). The helo was carrying a compliment of 31 troops - all believed to be Marines. There are no known survivors.

Ar Rutbah is a town of around 25,000, and, as is seen clearly in the satellite imagery below, is characterized by the rough, sandy terrain that so dominates the central portion of the country. Ironically enough, with 4.7 inches of rain a year, Rutbah is known as a "wet spot".

Iraq is an unremittingly hostile environment for both troops and equipment, and the long distances between major towns, and general lack of major east/west road systems makes light airborne and airlift operations the rule of the day in most cases.

From the Naval Institute's Proceedings -

Long trips are the rule in Iraq. It is more than 350 miles by road from Baghdad to Basra, for example, and about the same distance from Baghdad to the Jordanian border. Airborne light infantry divisions that lack much mobility on land must be motorized, provided ample helicopter supports, or be assigned relatively static missions.

Desert and steppe terrain favors airborne and airmobile operations, although high winds and dust may limit opportunities.
Today's crash happened in the early morning hours, during nightime operations. Due to the obvious security risks involved in daylight operations, many security missions take place during the hours of darkness in which the stresses on both men and equipment are minimized.

Heat likely wasn't an issue, as the highs in Rutbah are expected to reach only the upper 50s all week long, with intermittent cloud cover, and a slight chance of precip.

There is reported to have been bad weather in the area, but cloud cover surveys (seen below) indicate limited coverage. Odds are, the weather wasn't the chief cause of the crash, though peripheral issues like dust (and the potential for wind-whipped dust storms) can't be discounted.

In any case, today has proven to be the single deadliest day for the USMC in Iraq since the onset of hostilities. Our prayers are with the families of the men who were lost, and we, as a nation, grieve with them.

(Cross-posted at Exultate Justi)

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