MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”
-Abraham Maslow, American Psychiatrist
The United States Marine Corps has earned global prominence during its 238 years of existence through continuous demonstration of immediate expeditionary readiness. Through utilization of the four-headed beast that is the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), Marines have swiftly responded to the cries of help in every clime and place during every major war since the institution’s birth.
As an organization built upon the foundations of teamwork and unity, the Corps forges strength through the collaboration and communication between its various units and sections; each with its own purpose, all with a common goal in sight.
These various units must train cohesively outside of garrison in order to realize the true strength of the MAGTF in a combat zone. That is where field training comes into play.
In preparation for an upcoming deployment, Marine Attack Squadron-211 (VMA-211), based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., departed from the comforts of garrison life to take part in the Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 2-14 aboard Camp Wilson in the fields of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 13.
For VMA-211, serving as the MAGTF’s air combat element in the austere environment of Twentynine Palms simulating that of combat in the Middle East, the Wake Island Avengers were tested in their abilities at every level to provide constant support to their ground bound counterparts.
“The ground fighter, the individual Marine, is ultimately our number one resource,” said Gunnery Sgt. Manuel Vizcarrando, an airframes division chief with VMA-211 and native of Albuquerque, N.M. “We get a chance to integrate and train like we would in combat and we get to simulate a combat environment in our living conditions. We work together to train our pilots and our forward air controllers, along with our jointer terminal attack controllers and infantry units, on how to call in air support in order to execute the mission that we are capable of.”
A majority of the VMA-211 Marines operated on a 12-hour on-and-off working schedule as maintenance crew, putting in long days of work to ensure that the squadron aircraft are operable for the upcoming training evolutions.
“It’s important for us to understand that it’s our responsibility as maintenance to provide operable aircrafts to the pilots so that they can provide air support to the ground,” added Vizcarrando.
In addition to maintenance, enlisted Marines are tasked with properly equipping necessary ordinance and munitions to their jets.
Add in the fact that impromptu exercises can pop up with a 72 hour window, and these Marines are pacing the flight line, loading and de-loading 500-pound ordinance in an effort to support the ground without any discrepancies.
“The ordnance Marines have been working diligently in making sure these aircrafts are safe to fly with these bombs strapped to them,” said Sgt. Joshua J. Hammer, an avionics technician with VMA-211. “We’ve been dropping a lot of bombs in support of training, so we only get a small window to load the birds up in between missions. We haven’t missed a deadline.”
Though these long days of work and preparation do not vastly differ from what the Marines are accustomed to in garrison, Sgt. Brian Post, a power line mechanic with VMA-211, discussed how disastrous dust in the wind could be to their training schedule and overall workload.
“This ITX hasn’t been that crazy so far, but last year we had a sandstorm come in that damaged all of our engines,” said Post, a native of Austin, Texas. “That resulted in a huge up in our workload so that we could get the aircrafts to fly again.”
Post commented that the sandy catastrophe allowed for a valuable learning experience.
“It kind of opened our eyes; in five minutes all 11 of our aircrafts were out,” said Post. “The biggest thing I took away from last year was the importance of our red gear. It only takes a few minutes to cover up the aircraft and it completely protects their interior from sand in case something like this was to happen again.”
Tough living conditions were employed during this ITX in coordination with an amped up training schedule in order to prepare Marines for deployments to the Middle East. Gone are their heating and air-conditioned barracks, comfortable beds and personal vehicles.
Marines take refuge in aluminum roofed squad bays and must battle the nipping cold nights in issued sleeping systems and warming layers. Boredom is defeated through conversation and bonding between the Marines.
“It gives lance corporals and PFCs who are at their first duty station and have never been in the field a chance to constantly work together in a deployment simulation where they’re not going to their barracks or wives after work,” said Hammer, a native of Victorville, Calif. “You put due stress on Marines by taking them away from their comfort zones and the ITX gives us a snapshot of our capabilities as a combat unit.”
As Marine Corps officers, the pilots of VMA-211 shoulder the responsibilities of fully utilizing the capabilities of their aircraft and the ACE in support of ground fire and maneuver.
Captain Mike Lipper, the weapons and tactics instructor for VMA-211, explained the “crawl, walk, run” philosophy behind the operating training schedule and how it is vital for a pilot’s integration and communication within the ground element.
“For the aviators, [the ITX] is important because we get to train in coordination of the ground combat element to operate as part of a complex and combined fire plan with a detailed plan to employ for that company and their maneuvers,” said Lippert. “Towards the end, we take it to an even higher level and work with a battalion. That’s huge. The central fire support tasks are met by us in order to enable them to maneuver and finally seize the objective and meet the intent.”
With the various MAGTF elements pumping on all cylinders, Lippert believes that this ITX aboard Camp Wilson coordinates some of the most tactful and detailed military training available in the world.
“It’s an opportunity for the Marine Corps to train at a degree that very few organizations can train to worldwide,” said Lippert. “We have the aviation, ground, and logistical elements of the MAGTF all working together to meet a common goal. Very few nations train at this level or capability.”