Twentynine Palms -- The Aviation Combat Element, or ACE, plays an invaluable role within the Marine Air Ground Task Force, conducting offensive, defensive, and all other air operations to support the MAGTF mission. Marine aviation provides the MAGTF with the operational flexibility it needs to accomplish its mission across the range of military operations such as delivering fires, facilitating integrated command and control, enhancing mobility and maneuver, providing force protection, sustaining combat power, and collecting intelligence. Majority of aircraft usage within the ACE is for close air support or to transport for the Ground Combat Element or Logistics Combat Element. When the sky is the limit for technology, air superiority has become absolutely essential to winning wars, without ACE no major war can be won.
The Combat Center’s 29-day Integrated Training Exercise is the longest-lasting training exercise that occurs aboard the Combat Center, covering all four elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force. It is comprised of an intense training cycle involving a series of progressive, live-fire exercises that assess the ability and adaptability of a force of approximately 3,500 active-duty or Reserve Fleet Marine Force personnel.
The Combat Element contains the MAGTF headquarters and other units that provide operations, intelligence, logistics, communications and administrative support. The Ground Combat Element is task-organized to conduct ground operations to support the MAGTF mission and includes infantry, artillery, reconnaissance, armor, light armor, assault amphibian, engineer and other forces as needed. The Logistics Combat Element provides the full range of combat logistics functions and capabilities necessary to maintain the continued readiness and sustainability of the MAGTF as a whole, and the Aviation Combat Element conducts offensive, defensive and all other air operations to support the MAGTF mission.
Marine Wing Support Squadron 272 is providing aviation ground support to the Ground Combat Element for this year’s fifth iteration of ITX.
“Our unit provides aviation ground support to a composite Marine Aircraft Group 26, which is our parent headquarters back in New River, North Carolina,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Bain, commanding officer, MWSS-272. “Aviation ground support encompasses billeting, power, medical support, food service support, air field support, fuel and emergency services for the air base.”
Although not required for this exercise, MWSS-272 is capable of constructing an airfield similar to the Combat Center’s Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field, and providing Explosive Ordnance Disposal services to the air wing.
“Tactical Training Exercise Control Group has a training package designed specifically for Marine Wing Support Squadrons in terms of pushing us to the limit in all of our functional areas,” Bain said. “The most complicated event is probably the Base Recovery After Attack (BRAAT), which is a simulation of the base getting attacked and the MWSS working quickly to get it back up in operational conditions.”
Within MWSS-272 there are more than 70 Marine Occupational Specialties, all of which enable the unit to provide sufficient support to the ACE and the ITX overall. Below are just a few of the MOSs that contribute to the ACE’s lethality.
While there are many elements that contribute to the functionality of the ACE, arguably the most important is ensuring aircraft have the fuel they need to get where they are going. The fuelers with MWSS-272 are crucial to that mission.
“Every morning we come in, test fuel, restart the lines, collect our samples and then we wait for aircraft to come in,” said Cpl. Jared Williamson, assistant crew leader, MWSS-272.
It goes without saying that without fuel, the aircraft are inoperable. Testing the fuel ensures that bad fuel isn’t being distributed, which would hinder the mission and create unsafe flying conditions.
“Our first priority is always sortie generation,” Bain said. “Sortie is getting the aircraft in the air to do their mission. Even with all the training that we do out here, our No. 1 priority is to support the aircraft, getting them out to get the mission complete, and supporting the infantry that way.”
Welfare and Security
“Our mission here is to provide the health and well-being of the Marines who support the ACE and the MAGTF here at ITX,” said HM1 Kameron Williams, corpsman, MWSS-272. “We have several different components working together and our job here with the wing is to ensure that they’re able to provide the air escorts in the event of an emergency as well as transport troops goods and weapons.”
To fulfill their missions, the Marines must remain healthy. Daily, corpsman conduct elements of triage training for worst-case scenarios. While medical support is a crucial component of ensuring Marines’ safety, the personnel and equipment within the camp must remain secure when imminent danger is on the horizon. That’s where guard force comes in.
“I make sure that I have Marines posted at four different posts between the ACE compound,” said Sgt. Seth Pearson, sergeant of the guard for the ACE compound, MWSS-272. “I ensure that my Marines all have live rounds, they know what they’re doing, they’re fed, and they’re in the right place at the right time.”
Upon arriving at the Combat Center, communications Marines ensured that all of MWSS-272’s communication systems were in place, enabling them to provide support to the Marines. On a daily basis, communications trains to troubleshoot any problems that arise.
According to 1st Lt. Patrick Reed, communication officer-in-charge, MWSS-272, the mission of communications is to provide communication support for the entire ACE within the airfield, by providing both computer and radio assets.
“Considering the level of training that’s going on here and the operational tempo of what we’re doing, I think ITX is good training for what could potentially come,” Reed said.
Command and Control
“ITX is a great stepping stone,” said Master Sgt. Felicia Contreras, operations chief, MWSS-272. “The reason I say that is because we go through daily operations here supporting the MAGTF and the ACE, which is what we’re in direct support of. We also aid in any of the training evolutions that TTECG puts on for MAGTF 8.”
S-3’s direct support to the ACE is to provide any logistical support needed, including admin supplies, loading up aircraft, offloading cargo from tractor-trailers, setting up the camp and ensuring survivability.
The motor pool’s mission is to ensure that troops and equipment are transported in a safe and timely manner. Through pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections, the Marines in the motor pool ensure that their trucks are always up and running, and ready to respond to any scenario.
“I think ITX helps a lot,” said Pfc. Jeroy Campbell, motor technician operator, MWSS 272. “Because of this training, if we’re out in country and we come across an [improvised explosive device] we’re prepared to evacuate the wounded, bring them to the corpsmen, set up an landing zone and call in a chopper to [medically evacuate] the Marines, all while recovering the downed vehicle from the incident.”
“We’ve been given the task of demilitarizing four guard posts and constructing four new towers,” said 2nd Lt. Salvador Guzman, engineer platoon commander, MWSS-272. “General engineering exercise focuses on horizontal, vertical and survivability construction. It gives the engineer some experience out here building up something that they might build up in country.”
The guard posts are built using designs tailored to the post’s location. Engineers also take into account the enemy’s point of view when constructing the towers. In addition to the guard posts, the Marines also are building Southwest Asia huts, which are small, one-room buildings used for work space in the field.
“The foundation really takes up the most amount of time for any project,” Guzman said. “Once you get your foundation set, everything else falls into place. If you rush through your foundation you end up with errors on the back end and we’re building structures that are going to house Marines, so that’s a big deal.”
According to Guzman, a guard post can be completed in approximately two days while a SWA hut takes about four days to complete. On each project there is a project lead. At the end of every major piece put together the project lead performs a quality inspection. Once that inspection is complete, engineers move to the next phase of building.
“The SWA huts and guard towers that we construct stay once our unit moves on,” Guzman said. “So not only does our training benefit the engineers in our unit, but this [forward operating base] will take on any Marines who want to lock it on for training in the future.”
Constructing elements of the FOB encompasses only a portion of the engineers’ mission. Forward aviation combat engineering is another part of their mission and includes repairs to the different runways.
“In the event of the airfield getting bombed, there’s a process we go through and at the end of that process we determine what size minimum operating strip is needed for the airfield,” Guzman said. “Whatever is damaged in that minimum operating strip is where the engineers come in and fix that.”
Expeditionary Firefighting and Rescue
Keeping aircraft in the air is MWSS’s No. 1 priority, but remaining prepared for mishaps is critical to the mission of the ACE.
“Expeditionary Firefighting and Rescue’s mission is firefighting, rescue operations, salvage and overhaul procedures,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joshua M. Atkinson, staff non-commissioned officer in charge, EFR, MWSS-272. “We pretty much are an insurance policy for MWSS.”
Atkinson said that upon arrival to ITX 5-17, none of the Marines were used to working together because they come from different stations. They trained every day for the first week and a half to work together as a cohesive team and to standardize their emergency response.
“We had our first evaluated drill on July 28, for an emergency response to an MV-22 crash landing on the airfield,” Atkinson said. “Everything came together greatly and we received excellent remarks. The evaluator thought we’d been working together on drills like that on our station for years. It’s really a testament to our Marines’ maturity and how well they come together.”
In addition to the initial drill, EFR will be evaluated during the BRAAT drill. During the drill, EFR will have Marines augmented to the quick reaction force, but a majority of the Marines will be on the airfield to put down any firefighting situations that might arise.
“We are all emergency medical responders so we support the corpsmen in the event they are overwhelmed by patients,” Atkinson said. “If we were in country doing our job, we would be providing firefighting support to any forward refueling operations, any facilities that we erect in those locations and we’d also be providing airfield service support.”
Response, scene safety, rescue operations, and salvage and overhaul are the four stages of emergency response. During drills, EFR compartmentalizes each stage, then conducts drills specifically on each one so the Marines can perfect their response and learn how to transition into the next more smoothly.
“The training here at ITX prepares us for a complexity of scenarios based on the history of the Marine Corps’ war on terrorism,” Atkinson said. “The BRAAT drill specifically shows us exactly how we would function in the scenario of an airfield attack. We don’t get that kind of opportunity when we’re at New River.”
“I am proud of my Marines. I’m glad I’ve been able to come out here with such a passionate group of Marines who want to help and assist,” Bain said. “They share a vision of life safety and emergency response that enables me as a leader to provide maximum effort for any kind of operation.”
Bain believes ITX is one of the best opportunities his unit has to train for combat. ITX is designed specifically to train and then evaluate units in their most critical mission areas. Because the coyotes who observe the exercise have evaluated more than half of the MWSSs in the Marine Corps, MWSS-272 learns from the coyotes as well as the squadrons who came before them.
“One of the challenges of an MWSS is at home station, a lot of our Marines have to work for the air station so they work for the station firefighting department, or they work at the station chow hall, or they work at station fuels so they don’t really get to be part of the squadron team until we pull them out to work together in this sort of mission,” Bain said. “This exercise is a great way to build unit cohesion, and small unit leaders get to know each other. That’s what I’m most proud of; is how my Marines are finding new ways every day to improve the quality of support.”