Desert Talon prepares Marines for Iraq
Submitted by: MCAS Yuma
Story Identification Number: 2004116174556
Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz.(Jan. 15, 2004) -- Marines from aviation units throughout the United States checked in here Saturday night for exercise Desert Talon 1-04.

Desert Talon will prepare the air combat element of the Marine Air Ground Task Force going to Iraq, said Maj. James T. Jenkins, special projects officer, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1.

More than 1,100 students, 1,000 support personnel and 50 aircraft have come together to conduct an exercise that will teach these Marines to work cohesively as a unit.

This is the first exercise of its kind to take place at Yuma, said Jenkins. The exercise was put together in recent months by the direction of Col. Raymond C. Fox, commanding officer, MAWTS-1.

"Colonel Fox wanted us to create an exercise that would give us an opportunity to train the composite Marine Aircraft Group going to Operation Iraqi Freedom II," Jenkins explained. "This is what we came up with."

The staff of MAWTS-1 created a 13-day exercise that includes classroom training, practical application and a final exercise.

"There are lots of little things units do differently," Jenkins said. "This exercise helps everyone know what to expect. You have to get the team together and practice before the big game."

Desert Talon will train fixed and rotary-wing pilots and ground personnel to work together toward a common goal, Jenkins explained. He added that the students will cover reaction to possible threats, convoy support operations, casualty evacuations and desert landings, as well as a number of other useful skills.

Sergeant William C. Rapier, military policeman, Marine Wing Support Squadron-374, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, said the training will be invaluable to the Marines.

"This will be a real eye-opener for Marines who haven't deployed to a combat zone," Rapier declared. "We're just two days into the exercise and already this is a lot of training I wish we'd gotten prior to Afghanistan."

The training shows Marines what they might encounter when they get to Iraq, said 1st Lt. Scott M. Clendaniel, Forward Arming and Refueling Point team commander, MWSS-374.

Outside a real combat situation, "this is as real as it gets," Clendaniel added.

To accomplish all of the necessary training, the Marine units will conduct some of their operations in the city of Yuma.

"The people here have always been helpful in supporting us and allowing us to do whatever we need to do," he said. "Yuma is amazing. They have allowed us to train before, but now they are letting us train in the town for four days."

With all the moving parts and the added complexity of operating within the civilian populace, safety is the first priority of the exercise, said Col. Stuart L. Knoll, commanding officer, Marine Aircraft Group-16, during his opening remarks on the first day of the exercise.

"Nothing is that important that you have to risk yourself or your crew for a training mission," Knoll said. "Remember, safety first."

Jenkins mentioned that each unit has a lot to do before the deployment to Iraq, but that isn't an excuse for shortcutting safety.

"Safety is a concern, especially since most units have Marines deploying as well as (participating in) the exercise," Jenkins stated. "We are depending on the professionalism from each and every Marine to come together and do the right thing."

"My commanding officer always says, 'There is no such thing as a sound tactical plan that's unsafe,'" he added.

The success of Desert Talon will be apparent only after the dust settles and the air is clear here, said Jenkins. Marines will demonstrate the true success of the training during OIF II.

"I hope they learn something," he said. "If something we do assists them in accomplishing their mission, then we've done OK."

According to Rapier, if the rest of the exercise goes as well as the first two days, the Marines will be ready.

"We're pushing the Marines hard, and they are doing well," Rapier concluded. "By the time we're done here, we'll be ready to rock."