MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- “I don’t ever, ever, ever want to hear the term logistics tail again. If our aircraft, missiles, and weapons are the teeth of our military might, then logistics is the muscle, tendons, and sinews that make the teeth bite down and hold on— logistics is the jawbone!”
- Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez, USAF
The commencement of spring season brings the Weapon and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course conducted aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Even Yuma citizens with little knowledge to the course’s purpose and objectives can observe its training events. From the rampant roaring of engines in the sky, the plethora of Marines flooding to and from the main gate and the whispers of artillery and ordnance detonations that can be heard from the outskirts of the Yuma county, this two-month training exercise exhibits an obvious upsurge of operations and personnel to support with its demanding training curriculum.
The biannual course will graduate anywhere from 200 to 250 students, comprised of pilots and aircrew, and certify them as distinguished, qualified mentors in the fields of weapons and tactics. However, MCAS Yuma and its surrounding ranges will haul in a surplus of 4,000 Marines to support the expanded operations.
These additional Marines, gathered from Marine Corps installations nationwide, will reside in forward operating bases (FOB) throughout the 2.8 million acres of training ranges on MCAS Yuma to assist in WTI’s training operations. Ground element capabilities, such as infantry and artillery units, are integrated into the mix to deliver pilots with lifelike combative scenarios and a thorough understanding on how to execute effectively collaborated maneuver tactics - the Marine Corps bread and butter.
In order for the station to sustain the amped-up operational tempo of WTI’s two-month duration, a group of unsung heroes must rise to the task of providing life support for the participating Marines and their resident FOB’s.
Traveling all the way from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., 152 Marines with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion (ESB) joined MAWTS-1 as this vital logistical element. Detached, yet undeniably vital to the razzle-dazzle that is a signature of WTI training, these Marines of 8th ESB serve as the wheels driving the operations forward.
“Those Marines that are out there, a hundred or so miles away from Yuma, they’re providing a capability to MAWTS in order for them to conduct WTI and the period of instruction,” explained Capt. Scott Graneiro, the officer-in-charge of the 8th ESB detachment here for WTI. “Without them out there providing that capability, WTI wouldn’t be able to happen. They wouldn’t be able to get that realistic training that the ground units are providing. And with that, those Marines require life support. What we do is provide that life support for them.”
Operating out of Cannon Air Defense Complex, a training area aboard MCAS Yuma, 8th ESB’s assets vary anywhere from food services to landing support specialists. These assets were formed into a detachment of Marines to demonstrate the capabilities of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (MLG), the commanding unit of 8th ESB and headquartered out of Camp Lejeune.
Straying away from its typical mission in providing specific engineering support, 8th ESB entered WTI with a systematic approach to broaden its horizons and meet needs beyond the scope of an engineer unit.
“What makes 2nd MLG, and the Marine Corps in general, so unique is that we’re able to task-organize ourselves based on the mission that we’re accomplishing, and go out there and conduct that mission,” said Graneiro. “A lot of the Marines tasked with us come from all throughout MLG to form this cohesive unit that’s able to go out there and conduct this combat service support that MAWTS requires.”
“That’s what makes this unit really unique. We’ve only been together for a month, and it’s very impressive to see all these Marines come together and build this cohesive unit and provide this kind of support on a daily basis.”
Granerio explained that Cannon acted as the main hub in his unit’s wheel of operations. The unit would muster a majority of its Marines there, set up headquarters and receive the bulk of its supplies to be shipped out wherever necessity demands.
This life support would then be convoyed 100 miles northwest out to their combat logistical support in Syphon 8 to kindle the fire of ground side training operations - the spoke in the wheel of operations.
On top of coordinating the who, what, where, and when in their resupplying efforts, the Marines of 8th ESB are tasked with getting the necessities from point A to point B, which is an endeavor in itself.
Sergeant Adam Burkhart, a motor transportation operator with 8th ESB, described that though there is a great amount of responsibility associated with coordinating and executing these convoys, and how the task improves the Marines of his unit.
“The main focus for me is to make sure that my corporals get a lot of time to get behind the wheel and gain charge of Marines, along with the gear they need to deliver the loads in a timely manner,” said Burkhart. “The organization aspect - everything from the accountability to the movement - is pretty much all the same as being in a combat zone. As long as they can get that in their heads, and learn how to deal with all of these moving pieces at once, they’ll be set up down the road.”
Possibly the most impressive capability displayed by the 8th ESB in WTI was its ability to integrate its logistical prowess with the might of aviation.
Landing support specialists, combined with the ESB from 2nd MLG’s Combat Logistics Regiment 27, were utilized in order to coordinate external aerial lifts and drop-offs - a tactic proven to be efficient and favorable in a theatre of combat.
“In Afghanistan we have many patrol bases throughout the areas of operations, and to provide logistical support to those guys, convoys need to be pushed out,” explained Graneiro. “Marines are in vehicles on the roads, and the biggest threat for Marines out there is IEDs. What our helicopter support team and aerial delivery do is provide another means of resupply to those forward patrol bases throughout the areas. That prevents Marines from actually having to be in vehicles and driving and possibly hitting IEDs along the route.”
Though they will not be receiving a certificate warranting them as WTI instructors before their departure at the end of April, the Marines of 8th ESB have used their time in Yuma to sharpen their skills and prepare for conflict whenever it rises.
And while their actions flew under the radar to most, the fact remains - without these Marines acting as the logistics combat element, operations would cease to exist.