MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Camp Lejeune’s 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, assisted the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course in the largest air assault exercise since the 1990s here, April 13.
Approximately 500 3/9 Marines were airlifted from Auxiliary Airfield 2 in CH-46 Sea Knights, CH-53 Super Stallions and MV-22 Ospreys and dropped off at Landing Zone Crow, a Yuma Proving Ground live-fire range, where they shot stationary targets while securing the landing zone.
This history-making WTI course included the largest ground combat element the air station has ever hosted and proved to be beneficial not only for the pilots, but for the Marines on the ground as well.
Roughly 950 North Carolina-based Marines arrived here March 29 to support the current WTI course and take advantage of Yuma’s unique training opportunities.
“Supporting WTI has been a great opportunity for the battalion,” said Maj. Richard Rosenstein, battalion executive officer. “Having an entire infantry battalion integrated into the WTI command and control architecture provides realistic operational planning and coordination for the MAWTS-1 students and the battalion.”
More than 20 troop-transport aircraft fall under the air assault department of Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1.
“Having a battalion this size here is mutually beneficial,” said Maj. John Lehane, MAWTS-1 ground combat department head. “It is a great opportunity for the student pilots to get a feel for what it is like to move actual Marines.”
The battalion is training for both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, they emphasized combat operations in Afghanistan.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom the need for air assaults was limited, but Afghanistan is very conducive for it, said Lehane.
The battalion wanted to best replicate the challenging operating conditions found in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Rosenstein. The Barry M. Goldwater Range, Army Yuma Proving Ground and Camp Billy Machen offer range complexes that provide the most realistic challenges for the battalion.
The terrain and distances between the air station and Yuma Proving Ground replicate the distances battalions operate across in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the same logistical planning and execution, he explained.
The battalion is scheduled to conclude their training in late April with a battalion-sized helicopter-borne assault exercise, twice the size of this exercise.
WTI offers the opportunity for large-scale, helicopter-borne operations, which a battalion would not normally have the opportunity to participate in, said Rosenstein.
“Operating in this realistic environment on complex, unforgiving terrain severely challenges our Marines every day, physically and mentally,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Greenwood, battalion commanding officer. “There is definitely an intangible benefit that our Marines will … possess the confidence to accomplish anything anywhere.”
MAWTS-1 is considering continuing to host entire battalions here for WTI courses in the future.
“There is nothing like having actual passengers who are real infantry Marines, expecting us to do our job and get them where they need to go,” said Maj. Matthew Robbins, MAWTS-1 air assault department head and WTI instructor.