YUMA, ARIZONA -- Within the Navy and Marine Corps community, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., is a central hub of Marine aviation, with the resident ranges providing support for a myriad of training missions. The thunderous sound of aircraft dashing overhead is commonplace, but from June 3 through June5 another sound was added to the cacophony of the Western Barry M. Goldwater Range - gunfire. .
The rounds of ammunition cracking through the air originated from the combat engineers of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371, based at MCAS Yuma, as they conducted infantry tactics drills in the desert-Southwest near Yuma.
“Coming out here gave us an opportunity to train on the individuals’ combat shooting and how to employ squad tactics in a dynamic combat environment,” said Staff Sgt. Victor Magana, a combat engineer with MWSS-371.
While supporting the aviation mission of the Marine Corps, combat engineers only employ a fraction of what the overall job qualifications are in their occupational specialty. On an air station these Marines are responsible for repairing expeditionary airfields and salvaging downed aircraft, but they also need to know how to provide security during missions and fill the role of a basic infantryman.
“The biggest thing I noticed is, because of the air wing’s mission objectives, we are not as focused on rifleman skills,” said Magana. “I hope in doing this my Marines become better-rounded engineers. When going to a ground-centric unit, like a division, these skills will be essential.”
With Magana leading the tactics for the exercise, he constructed a curriculum based on his experience during a combat deployment and the guidelines put forth by the Marine Corps. The training for the three-day event centered on drills sharpening the individual Marine’s weapon handling and ability to act as part of a tactical, 13-man squad.
Some of the individual drills included firing at multiple static, human-shaped targets, closing with targets by bounding from barricade to barricade while suppressing the enemy, and moving laterally to new cover between instances of shooting from the prone at a target approximately 100 meters away.
“It boils down to economy of motion,” explained Magana. “Make what they do as efficient and smooth as possible, so they…can get the gun up and operational every time and don’t burn out.”
When the individual drills were complete, Magana introduced the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and the M240 Bravo machine gun, key weapons required to practice realistic squad tactics. After weapon familiarization, the combat engineers organized into fire teams which made up a squad. From there, they worked on employing each fire team efficiently and suppressing the enemy, which allows flanking and maneuvering.
“On the squad level, this training is ensuring that those combat engineers attached to ground units one day will be force multipliers,” said Magana
As the last rounds were fired on the final night, the Marines, still freshly imbued with the knowledge of the last three days, received a call that an emergency had taken place and they were needed. An AV-8B Harrier II from the air station had crashed, and the combat engineers responded – exemplifying the importance of a well-rounded combat engineer.