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Exercise Desert Talon trains units for Iraq deployments

By Sgt. David Bryant | | June 17, 2004

Academic classes for Exercise Desert Talon 2-04 began on station Tuesday and practical application exercises will begin Saturday prompting an increase in use of tactical aviation and ground equipment throughout Yuma County.

The exercise is conducted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1 and is designed to prepare aviation and ground unit personnel for situations they may run into in Iraq, said Capt. Stephen Acosta, F/A-18D Hornet pilot and forward air controller instructor, MAWTS-1.

"The public will see some convoys of military vehicles maneuvering throughout the county and there will be some helicopters flying around and landing in designated areas as well," Acosta said. "There will be fixed-wing aircraft participating as well, but they will be flying at a medium altitude. The public may hear them, but won't be seeing them flying at low altitudes."

Approximately 2,500 Marines and sailors from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and 1st Force Service Support Group will attend the training, which is scheduled for completion June 28, said Maj. Thomas A. Welborn, ground combat department head, MAWTS-1. The training is done with cooperation between the station and Yuma County and city officials.

"We will be blocking some of the roads at designated times during convoy training due to the fact there will be pyrotechnics involved," Welborn said. "People should keep an eye out for signs letting them know that a military convoy is in process so they can take another route."

Area residents should not notice any other intrusions, although a casualty evacuation exercise is scheduled to be held at Somerton Middle School, Welborn said. The reason for holding some of the training in town is to create scenarios based on information from units already in Iraq concerning situations they are commonly coming across.

Bringing in a variety of units meakes the exercise comparable to putting together a basketball team for the summer Olympic games, Welborn said. "You have a lot of players who aren't used to working together, so this gets them used to doing just that."
While primarily a 3rd MAW exercise, Desert Talon offers an excellent opportunity for convoy training for 1st FSSG personnel as well, said Maj. Robert D. Dasch, commanding officer, Combat Service Support Detachment-16.

"It's a 3rd MAW exercise, but they need us to make it realistic, which gives our convoy commanders the chance to train with real air assets as well," Dasch said. "We have people from all over the FSSG, whether convoy commanders or potential convoy commanders, coming out to get as much exposure as possible."

Convoy operations training is the main priority for the I Marine Expeditionary Force, the parent command of both 3rd MAW and 1st FSSG, Dasch said. Convoys offer enemy personnel the greatest window of opportunity for attacks, an ongoing problem since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We'll have enough vehicles out here to keep the convoys big enough to be realistic, but not so large they become uncontrollable," Dasch said. "The point is to be able to fully integrate with the air assets, and we will use as much of the Yuma area as possible to do this because it is so much like the areas you find in Iraq."

The training conducted during Desert Talon is highly effective, as the first exercise conducted in January proved to be approximately 85 percent "on the mark" with what units are currently encountering in Iraq, Welborn said. Between feedback from the first exercise and real-time information, the current exercise should prove invaluable to units getting ready to deploy.

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