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Corps' top support squadron upgrades Yuma's auxiliary airfield

By Lance Cpl. Jakob Schulz | | March 11, 2010

Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 began replacing matting at Auxiliary Airfield 2 on March 1, 2010, to certify it for another year so squadrons could use it for carrier landing training.

The project, scheduled for completion by the end of the month, will replace 40,060 square feet of aluminum matting making up the airfield’s taxiway and maintenance pad.

AUX-2 replicates the flight deck of a carrier ship and is located east of Yuma on the Barry M. Goldwater Range.

“The squadrons use AUX-2 for carrier takeoff and landing,” said Gunnery Sgt. Rex Coste, MWSS-371 expeditionary airfield operations chief. “If we don’t have AUX-2 up and running, they can’t get their carrier qualification and that puts them behind for deployment training. We have to recertify AUX-2 every year, and sometimes we have to replace matting for it to pass.”

The matting is normally scheduled for replacement every five years, however sometimes the elements take their toll faster than expected.

“The weather has a tremendous effect on the surface of the matting,” said Coste. “With the constant winds in the desert, it’s basically a sand-blasting effect.”

Last year, the squadron replaced 200,000 square feet of the airfield’s matting.

Squadrons trying to meet their carrier qualifications normally practice on the airfield before moving to the real thing.

Even though the airfield is primarily used by AV-8B Harriers, it also meets specifications for the F/A-18 Hornet, MV-22 Osprey and various KC-130 models to land on it for other training.

Approximately 25 Marines and sailors worked on replacing the matting, with some mats weighing 110 pounds each.

“This is nothing compared to what we did in Afghanistan,” said Cpl. Leah Racobs, squadron expeditionary airfield maintenance technician. “The airstrip we built there was 318 sheets wide. This one is only seven.”

While on a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, the squadron built a 2.2 million-square-foot helicopter parking expansion at Camp Bastion.

The historic project was the largest airfield ever constructed of aluminum matting in a combat zone.

The squadron also completed an AH-1W Super Cobra parking area at Camp Bastion, and a KC-130 assault strip and unmanned aircraft system operation strip at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, Afghanistan.

These feats helped the squadron claim the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s best aviation support unit of the year award on Feb. 23, 2010.

In addition to getting AUX-2 up and running for the squadrons, the work also provides MWSS-371 personnel valuable training on setting up and maintaining an airstrip.

“Our training here is what made those projects possible,” said Sgt. Maj. John Scott, squadron sergeant major. “Those feats were accomplished because we trained hard here and it paid off there.”

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