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Marines with Marine Attack Squadron 211 unload their gear from a KC-10 on the flight line of Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska after a seven-hour flight from Yuma April 13, 2010. More than 160 Marines from VMA-211 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 flew north to participate in Exercise Red Flag-Alaska, one of the largest joint-service exercises in the U.S. military. The Avengers’ eight AV-8B Harriers comprise part of the 100 aircraft participating in the exercise.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison

Yuma Marines head to Alaska for cold weather flight training

22 Apr 2010 | Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison

Marines based in the typically scorching city of Yuma, Ariz., would probably find the idea of working in snow laughable.

But those aren't chuckles from the members of Marine Attack Squadron 211 currently deployed here. They're shivers.

The Marines from the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, donned cold weather gear to work in frigid conditions for Exercise Red Flag-Alaska from April 13 to May 3, 2010, improving their adaptability to work in different environments.

The exercise, which trains pilots in aerial warfare, offers the Marines a new working climate, where the average temperature is 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile in Yuma, tempertures are in the 90s.

“Every clime and place,” said Lt. Col. Vance Cryer, VMA-211 commanding officer. “This is what they mean.”

The climate change presents new problems for both pilots and ground maintainers.

“For a cold-weather environment, we use intake blankets,” said Cpl. Justin Reyes, VMA-211 powerline mechanic, referring to the covers put on the AV-8B Harrier to insulate them. The same engine covers are used in Yuma to keep out sand and debris.

If water enters the engine and freezes, it can damage or destroy it, said Reyes.

The cold can also shrink the gaskets, causing fuel leaks.

To mediate this, pilots run the Harriers for approximately 20 minutes to warm up the jets. This also prevents the jets’ batteries from depleting and interfering with the navigation systems.

In the air, pilots must contend with heavier cloud cover impairing visibility and locating snow-covered targets.

“We are used to a desert environment,” said Spanish Navy Lt. Jose Pacios-Bello, exchange pilot with VMA-211. “It’s going to be interesting finding targets covered in snow.”

Pilots use information received from ground personnel to deliver ordnance to the targets. The target area is known, but not the targets themselves.

“It’s definitely beneficial,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Lichtenfels, corrosion control division chief. “It’s good that we have a place like this in our own country to go out and train.”

The cold-weather training will prepare the Avengers for their probable deployment to Afghanistan later this year.

“At some points it’s uncomfortable, but all training is,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Cudo, squadron powerline mechanic.

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