MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, OKINAWA, Japan --
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa, Japan -- The Marines braced themselves against rotor wash as the helicopter rose. It hovered over a 7,000 – pound cinder block, ready to lift.
Buffeted by the wind, landing support Marines maneuvered themselves into position to attach a dangling hook from the helicopter to the monolithic block.
Friction from the gale-force winds generated 200,000 volts of static electricity that coursed through the swaying hook. To avoid electrocution, the Marines hoisted a yellow rod up to the hook, directing the deadly energy harmlessly into the ground.
The helicopter hovered a few feet above the Marines’ heads as the hook safely attached to the cinder block. The block slowly rose as the helicopter downdraft intensified.
And all of the Marines wore distinct red patches.
The red patchers, properly referred to as landing support specialists, have a unique role in the Marine Corps. They coordinate ship-to-shore movement of troops, vehicles and supplies. They make sure everything goes quickly and safely to where it is needed.
“The red patch to me is kind of like a tradition,” said Pfc. Katherine Figueroa, from Ogden, Utah, and a landing support specialist who helped with lift here, April 25, 2016. “It started back in World War II, and it is just a tradition we kept because it symbolizes our MOS.”
Figueroa, a red patcher with Landing Support Detachment, 3rd Transportation Support Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 3, continues a tradition that began during the Pacific island-hopping campaign of World War II. After a initial beachhead assault, follow-on troops would come ashore. Confusion on the beach led to the creation of a red patch to distinguish the landing support Marines from those in the infantry. The red patch is placed on the back of both their trouser legs, below the cargo pocket, and on the front of their covers.
Figueroa said the landing support specialists understand the origin of their patch and are proud of their tradition.
“That is always something that has been taught in the school house -- that the Red Patchers were kind of like our own community because not a lot of people know about our job,” said Figueroa.
From the enlisted to officer ranks, red patchers stand out. During a major movement like the helicopter support team exercise, red patch officers are always on scene, providing direct guidance as enlisted Marines supervise the movement of personnel and equipment at a landing site.
“I love my job, and I love Marines,” said 1st Lt. Hannah Cox from Chillicothe, Ohio, and platoon commander of the detachment. “Not every billet that a logistics officer gets is as hands on with Marines, so it is a joy to be able to be as involved as I get to be. There is not any other billet in III MEF were you get to be as operationally hands-on as with every HST exercise that my platoon does.”
Red patchers perform a dangerous job, but Marines like Figueroa say that it is also very exciting.
“It gets my heart pumping,” said Figueroa. “When you see the hook coming down, you know the hook has 200,000 volts of electricity going through it, and you’re just always being watchful and making sure nobody gets hit, because you’re gone if you get hit with a hook. To me, it is just an adrenaline rush.”
The Marines of 3rd TSB understand their unique role and are proud to wear the red patch that signifies a legacy that began in World War II.
“Depending on where Marines go and what they do,” said Cox, “there is always going to be a red patch there showing them what to do once they get there.”