TWENTYNINE PALMS AIRPORT, Calif. --
Sand blew lightly across a quiet Twentynine Palms’ Airport runway, as the chopping sounds of flying metal beasts echoed throughout the Morongo Basin May 10.
The Marines, with Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, glided to the soft sand now whirling around their CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, as shots from role-playing insurgent fighters rang out across the airfield.
Company C’s objective was to seize control of the airfield from a para-military group and hold it until reinforcements arrived to make the airfield completely operational.
“We came in, got out and centered on line,” recalled Lance Cpl. Thomas Freeman, team leader of third platoon, Co. C, 1st Bn., 7th Marines, “I called the squad leader and told him, ‘Hey we’ve got a lot of guys over there with AK-47s.’ At that time they opened fire on us, so we started blasting them.”
Freeman was on the first of three helicopter waves transporting Marines directly to the airfield for the assault and eventual take-over of the installation.
This exercise was just one installment in the battalion’s training for their upcoming role as the battalion landing team with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit this summer. Marines usually try to avoid such a “hard hit” on an airfield in order to harness the element of surprise, but some situations may require it, said 1st Lt. Jeremiah Adams, Co. C’s executive officer.
“Usually the first thing we do when we step into a theater is secure an airfield,” Adams said. “It’s a standard MEU mission that is necessary to facilitate the insertion of the rest of a much larger force. “One of the missions we have been tasked with while on the MEU is airfield seizure, which is something that would be used to insert follow on forces.”
As the first wave returned fire, the enemy fighters retreated into two buildings on edge of the runway.
“They had the advantage, and we were in the open,” Freeman said. “First squad started swinging around to close the gate as our squad started pushing up.
“We have all these small skills you develop as an infantryman, and in a situation like this, you have to combine them all at once,” he said. “We incorporated buddy team rushes, room clearing, calling for fire, setting up a defense, security. It was a culminating event.”
After pushing across the runway and clearing each building, Marines gathered intelligence as they prepared for the follow-on waves of reinforcements.
“It’s a two part operation,” Adams said. “At first you’re being very aggressive, and then you’ve got to flip the switch and sit back and tell yourself, ‘Alright, I’m not assaulting this place anymore, I have to defend it. How do I stop what happened to the people here earlier from happening to me?’”
Follow-on reinforcements included increased firepower, air traffic controllers and engineers to make the airfield operational as soon as possible.
“The whole point is to be able to use the runway and the airfield, so with this in mind we want to preserve it,” Adams said, “The last thing you want to do is add weeks or months to an operation” because the airfield needs to be repaired.
As additional waves made their landings and the raiding force grew, the chances of a successful counterstrike from the enemy greatly decreased. First team was in control and the airfield was open for business.