MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – --
Local Combat Center Marines demonstrated why noncommissioned officers are considered the backbone of the Marine Corps as they hosted San Diego-based NCOs taking part in a training demonstration of the Expeditionary Airfield and other installation capabilities here Jan. 26 and 27.
Noncommissioned officers from Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 and Combat Center trainers hosted NCOs of different occupational specialties from Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego. The experience gave the visiting NCOs a chance to step out of their comfort zone and gain an appreciation for the big picture, said Gunnery Sgt. Juan Manco, the Expeditionary Airfield’s quality assurance chief with MWSS-374.
The Marines received training and information at many of the Combat Center’s unique locations, including the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field, They witnessed demonstrations on explosive ordnance disposal, vehicle extrication and aircraft firefighting, and received rare hands-on aircraft arrestment training with NASA F/A-18 Hornets and crew, Manco added.
“What we had here is a very unique opportunity to show these Marines a more in-depth view of our role,” Manco said. “They get to see the different puzzle pieces when it all gets put together.” He said their learning doesn’t only apply to the air, but the land as well.
“They see how they support, and how that will eventually translate to the guys on the ground,” Manco said.
At the Expeditionary Airfield, Sgt. Thomas Hankinson, an aircraft rescue and firefighting specialist with the squadron, described their fiery piece of the training.
“[The Marines] are all rotating through, working in teams to put out the fires on our giant simulator,” said the Savannah, Ga., native, as water splashed and fire roared behind him.
“They’re operating in their [full firefighting gear] and doing drills to put out a flaming aircraft.”
The Marines in the squadron got an extra treat that day, when two NASA F/A-18s landed at the SELF, and agreed to aid in the arrestment training. The pilots said they were glad to be working with a group of the Corps’ finest blood-striped devil dogs.
“We enjoy supporting the Marine Corps any way we can,” said Jim Smolka, a NASA test pilot, who hails from Mt. Clemons, Mich. “This type of stuff is great training for both of us. We get caught up in constantly doing test pilot training, and never get the opportunity to do expeditionary landing on runways like this.”
This rare training opportunity will bear fruit in the near future for the squadron’s NCOs, like Sgt. Thomas Hankinson, who are scheduled to deploy soon in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and will have another opportunity to provide their support downrange in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.