ST. GEORGE – The fine line between reality and fiction blurred into the same realm for some United States Marines this past weekend as they trained in and around the St. George Municipal Airport and the Shivwitz Indian Reservation.
On Friday, 39 Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU, flew in to the St. George airport from Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., on a C-130 to complete a training exercise as part of preparation for post-summer deployment.
There are three west coast MEUs, three east coast MEUs and one always out of Okinawa, Japan. A MEU is where the Marine Corps and the Navy get together and take part in three different organized elements including Aviation Combat Element, Ground Combat Element, and Logistics Combat Element training. In addition, an essential component of the organization for conducting missions under the Marine Corps is the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
Also arriving Friday, two AH-12 Cobras and a UH-1Y Huey helicopter flew in, but first stopped as part of the mission at Inyokern, near China Lake, Calif., to fill their tanks with gasoline.
“Out of the back of two other helicopters — two CH-53s, they had fuel and pumps and so we landed right there next to them and filled up with the rotors turning,” said Huey pilot Maj. Chris Rozsypal.
The rest of the 11th MEU Marines are out at Fort Hunter Liggett. Calif., doing pre-deployment training called Realistic Urban Training. As part of this training some Marines were sent out to the field to set up a forward arming and refueling point, or FARP.
A FARP serves as an essential base for fueling and rearming aircraft and is situated as far from the home base as possible – within limits pertaining to fuel needs – in order to extend the boundaries operation further for the Marines.
“St. George Airport let us set up a FARP here so that we can do further deep operations,” Lt. Colleen McFadden said. “We set up our home base at Fort Hunter Liggett… in order to allow us to extend our operations even further.”
The MEUs train for different missions as fictional exercises. The one they completed Saturday evening was a long-range raid. A C-130 aircraft, along with two AH-12 Cobras and UH-1Y Huey, brought everything needed to complete the mission including equipment, personnel, MREs and Marines.
In order to bring a realistic ambiance to the mission Marines slept in camouflage tents on the asphalt of the airport.
“What we have to prove to the team that evaluates us is that we’ve gotten off of the ships and that we can go deep into a host nation that we are supporting and provide them some kind of support. This one is 360 nautical miles,” Maj. Rozsypal said.
“To go along with the scenario we did venture out into the local populous,” Rozsypal said. “It turns out they’ve got a lot of the same brands we’re accustomed to seeing…like Walmart, Domino’s Pizza, Cracker Barrel. I was glad to see that the host nation speaks a lot of English.”
The St. George Municipal Airport normally does not have a tower for air traffic controllers, but for this mission the MEU set up its own air traffic controllers on the roof who were controlling all air traffic that moved through the area.
All logistics were received inside the COC tent, or Command Operating Center, that served as the base for the FARP as a whole.
“We provide communications back to our central location, if the ship were out there we would link back to the ship,” said Maj. Harold Dowling, FARP officer in charge.
The LAAD, or low altitude air defense, provides security. For this training exercise there were two teams providing air defense and two teams providing ground defense with machine guns.
“We do have training missiles that allow my Marines to go through the engagement process,” said Lt. Ethan Coots, LAAD officer in charge. “They can actually track on these aircraft that are flying around here and still get some training out of it … they go through the whole process just like they would firing a live missile.”
As far as sticking with the mentality of realism, “that can be one of the challenges of keeping the Marines engaged because a lot of it is notional … they do have to make-believe sometimes, but they’re great about it,” Coots said. “It is nice coming to a place like this where there are a lot of aircraft flying around, because at least they have something to look at.”
The risks are the enemy-centered risks, securing the ground is essential. Without the LAAD there is no other way of securing the air.
“There are a lot of considerations we have to think about … that’s why we’re here, that’s why we do what we do. My Marines have to be equally as capable of ground security as air security,” Coots said.
To conjure more realism during the training exercises, the military began to incorporate role players more and more over the last couple of years. For instance, they may throw in a role player who only speaks another language, which “makes it harder for the Marines going in to communicate because they only speak another language,” McFadden said. “It’s hands and drawing on the ground and things like that. It makes you have to think on your feet.”
“At the end of the day we’re all here to just do our jobs,” McFadden said smiling.
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- Marines landing at SGU for ground realistic urban training
- 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit to train in St. George
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