MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA -- United States Marines have long been hailed as the world’s preeminent combat arms experts. Battle after battle, Marines have proven they have what it takes to get the job done.
So, how does the Corps maintain this degree of combat-tested prowess? Through training … and training, and more training.
Whether airframe mechanic, infantryman or legal services specialist, every Marine is constantly practicing the essential skills he or she needs to accomplish the mission.
Often, this behind-the-scenes practice is omitted in discussion of the Corps’ accolades and accomplishments. So too, are the Marines who provide this training, those dedicated few who work daily to ensure their compatriots receive the necessary preparation to survive and thrive.
Among the trainers of Marines are the coyotes of the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group, of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., who play an integral role backstage during the Integrated Training Exercise.
The coyotes are the fulcrum around which the Corps’ new, revamped pre-deployment exercise, the ITX, revolves. Their task is exercise control- the conduction of training exercises, the assurance of safety and the assessment of performance.
“We teach, coach, mentor,” explained Maj. Ronald Chino, a tactical air control party evaluator with TTECG and a native of Brooksville, Fl. “When we try to train the Fleet in (techniques, tactics and procedures] for combined arms, we try to teach them doctrinal methods and tactics that will broaden their ability to conduct combined arms operations.”
When supervising events, it is the job of the coyotes to focus on what their subject matter specialties are – infantry, armor, artillery, engineering, aviation, etc. – and observe how the participants are doing. They then provide feedback and suggestions during and after the exercise to help the trainees improve.
“(The Marines) get a chance to look at themselves with our assessments, all the way up to the top of that battalion, letting them know where their weaknesses are and where their strengths are,” explained Staff Sgt. Eric Jensen, a maneuver coyote with TTECG and a native of Racine, Wis.
With a priority mission to help Marines better themselves, the coyotes also focus on their other key objective – safety.
“At the end of the day, our number one mission is to keep it safe,” said Chino. “We make sure they can get the best training possible but that they are safe in doing so, and they are not going to do anything that will hurt somebody.”
As the coyotes carry onward with these objectives in mind, they come together as the backbone of TTECG’s influence.
“TTECG’s mission has a profound impact on the Marine Corps,” added Chino. “We do integrated training. We do combined arms. We let guys do stuff they may never see unless they end up in a combat zone.”
“It takes everybody doing their job to make exercises work,” he added. “You have several thousand people who show up to Twentynine Palms for an exercise. TTECG supervises that execution. We need everyone to be able to execute because there are so many moving parts.”
Earning the privilege to don the orange gear (coyotes wear orange body armor or camelbacks to visually separate themselves from the exercise force) comes only from accruing extensive experience in a particular field involved with combined arms combat operations. That knowledge is then honed through training into the coyote skill set.
The coyote training regimen consists of some essential classroom instruction, but focuses more on vital field experience. Each coyote-in-training will spend a period of time shadowing a veteran, learning from his actions over a training cycle.
Then, this relationship will reverse, and the veteran will step back, and advise and assist the new coyote as they perform what they have learned. This process of being trained and certified on each training event takes two to three ITXs. For coyotes, it’s all about experience.
“As you see the different units, you see what good and bad look like. You have to do it first to be able to evaluate well later on,” said Gunnery Sgt. Xavier Altamirano, a maneuver coyote with TTECG and a native of Deming, N.M.
This well-trained and dedicated staff is strong not only because of their proficiency at the conduct of constant exercises, but also because they care about the Marines who come through the ITX.
“The goal of TTECG is to give them the best training possible, and we actually care that they learn and they are doing things in the most efficient manner possible,” said Chino. “When they leave ITX, some of these guys will find themselves doing this for real, and hopefully they know what they are doing. I think that’s the goal of every coyote. At the heart of it, everyone wants to see these guys learn and be great at what they do.”
The coyotes are constantly working to improve the capabilities of the Corps. For the Marines in this line of work, there is a constant reminder of how watching a combat force in action feels.
“There are moments when you are watching artillery, 81s, 50 Cals., 7.62, 60mm mortars and aviation fires all dropping together in a target area in close proximity to friendlies,” said Chino. “When you are watching this amazing orchestration of fire, it’s moments like that where you go, ‘This is a pretty cool job.’ I get to watch us do what we are supposed to be able to do the best, and it’s very cool to see, because you see the effects of all the training we do and all the discipline. You spend your time in the fleet training. You are down in the weeds doing your job, and you don’t get to step back and go, ‘This is pretty amazing what we are capable of.’ It’s pretty impressive.”