MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. – “That was an hour and a half, gents,” bellowed Maj. George Flynn over the roaring of aircraft engines on Marine Corps Air Station Yuma flight line. Flynn was barely visible in the thicket of woodland camouflage utilities worn by the fifty-five second lieutenants that surrounded him. The aircraft hangar was hot and uncomfortable on Thursday, but his words resonated with the new leaders of Marines, he was their benchmark.
“That’s what professionals do,” asserted Flynn, the director of Infantry Officer Course, based at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, in reference to the rehearsal of concepts that was just reviewed. Ninety minutes spent standing around a scorching hangar might seem nonsensical to some. For Flynn and his associates, it was ninety minutes that could grant victory or defeat.
Flynn stood atop a detailed terrain model which was analyzed and dissected by his unit to establish their approach in the upcoming long-range raid exercise later that night. Painted wooden blocks represented the landing zones and infrastructure of their objective 220 miles away in the training ranges of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California. Toy soldiers provided security for the extraction landing zones– the end picture of a mission well done.
Flynn’s voice resonated through the lieutenants, “Professional!”
His hand shot out and pointed toward a neighboring group of pilots and crew chiefs, the aviation and logistical personnel who would ensure the safekeeping of his Marines in the air and on the ground. The day prior, this staff familiarized the lieutenants with the capabilities of the CH-53E Super Stallion. They trained well past sunset conducting fast rope training from the helicopter, guaranteeing the lieutenants can insert into the landing zone swiftly and safely.
The lieutenants’ hands still burned from the rope. Their knees were still sore from impacts with the tarmac.
The attention shifted toward the lieutenants. Less than 12 hours separated them from their final test of IOC: Talon Reach IV. Three months of intensive training and little-to-no sleep rendered them exhausted. Two days of planning and preparation provided them the confidence required to battle fatigue, and focus their minds on the upcoming mission.
The three months of exertion were not limited to the lieutenants. The IOC instructors stood tall at Flynn’s recognition. Countless hours were spent mentoring their students on the hardships of leading a rifle platoon. As the final test loomed, the instructors remained confident in their teachings and their students.
“We convey to them multiple times throughout the course that they are taking care of the very best that America has to offer and that they must always work to ensure their Marines are ready for the next mission,” said Flynn.
Communication and preparation, as they had been taught, would overcome the lack of visibility, as well as any obstacle they might face as a future platoon commander.
As Flynn explained, IOC relocated the final planning phase of Talon Reach to MCAS Yuma from MCAGCC Twentynine Palms in order to emphasize to his students the importance of communicating with assets that are not part of a rifle platoon; more specifically, their airborne counterparts.
“Talon Reach is the integration of the aviation combat element (ACE), logistical combat element, and ground combat element, which, in this case, is simulated by the students being constructed into a company rifle team,” explained Flynn, a native of Woodbridge, Virginia. “So really, we’re teaching the students Marine Air Ground Task Force interoperability.”
According to Flynn, MCAS Yuma was an ideal area of operations for the final exercise of Talon Reach because of the resident resources it could provide to the IOC students.
“Yuma has Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1), and I wanted to get the students exposed to the best pilots as an example for what they can expect from the ACE when conducting mission planning,” said Flynn. “Through the process of planning, the students have been directly exposed to what happens when you sit down and provide a sound ground tactical plan; how the ACE can take that plan and develop what they need to load and conduct the movement; and provide an insert of those Marines onto the objective.”
Over a decade of adversity overseas has led to a much different IOC curriculum than Flynn experienced as a student 12 years ago.
Based on guidance contained in Expeditionary Force 21, released in March 2014, Talon Reach is now designed to demonstrate and refine the operational reach and expeditionary capabilities of the Company Landing Team, as displayed by the IOC students’ execution of the long-range raid.
In addition, personnel variety and experience has led to a flexible IOC staff who are determined to provide their students with modern and relevant training.
“A continuous motto among the faculty throughout the course is that we want to make the Marines better than ourselves, so we believe that this school needs to continuously evolve,” said Flynn. “We’re constantly looking for new mission sets, new ways of teaching, and new ways of developing field exercises, modeling it to what they can expect in the operating forces.”
These young Marines know they have been properly equipped and prepared for this large-scale exercise and whatever challenges their Marine Corps careers may bring.
“When stuff goes down, people look toward the Marines,” said 2nd Lt. Seth Kellogg, the IOC class commander. “Every single part of my training has led up to this point. Everything we’ve done has led up to our ability to plan, prepare, and execute this mission.”