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thedrifter
12-17-08, 06:31 AM
Exercise tests air and ground skills

12/16/2008 By Cpl. Sean P. Cummins , Regimental Combat Team 5

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq — Two Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobras moved to engage an unknown number of insurgents firing on Marines from a one-story building in open desert near here.

The targets the helicopters engaged were actually on a multi-purpose range here during a training exercise designed to test-fire the communication between Marines on the ground and pilots in the air.

The Marine helicopters made numerous passes over the targets to provide the close-air support that is vital to Marines on the ground. The training exercise gave the forward air controller for Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 a chance to work with pilots and refine his and the pilots’ skills on a live range.

“The purpose of the training is to increase the proficiency of our pilots so we can provide more effective close-air support. A number of considerations are involved in this type of training,” said Capt. Paul R. Barron, 30, a UH-1N Huey pilot training officer with HMLA-269 from Myrtle Point, Ore. “We also are gaining proficiency at employing ordnance. We vary each attack in order to gain proficiency at maneuvering our aircraft in different situations. Additionally, it is very beneficial for the (forward air) controllers to become familiar with the pilots who support them.”

The training provided a rare opportunity for the Marines to hone their skills in the air and on the ground while deployed.

“This training is really a perishable skill if you don’t do it often,” said Capt. Dave “Penguin” Merrit, 30, an air officer with Headquarters and Support Company, 3rd Bn, 7th Marines, from Wilbraham, Mass. It’s good training for the FACs and also for the air crew. When you don’t shoot often, you start losing that perishable skill or the stick-and-rudder skills needed to make sure you have the weapons on target on time.”

The ability for FACs and pilots to talk rests solely on the air radio operators, whose mission is to ensure there is constant communication between the air and ground elements.

“My job is to make sure (the forward air controller) is talking to the pilots. I have to perform operation checks on our radios to make sure everything works and perform preventative maintenance; otherwise things could go south quick. If (the forward air controller) can’t tell (the pilots) they’re clear, then they don’t know to shoot,” said Cpl. Justin T. McNutt, 20, a radio operator with H&S Co.

Ultimately, the goal of the exercise was to make sure the Marines on the ground have another useful tool to help them in the fight.

“This is the first time (3rd Bn., 7th Marines) has done this training in Iraq, but I’m looking to recreate this as often as possible until we leave COP Rawah,” Merrit said. “This will definitely help the squadron out too, and the squadron has already asked for more of this kind of training.”

Ellie