Practicing the long-range aviation movement of a battalion-sized element of U.S. Marines, the 1st Marine Division executed a simulated airfield seizure at Yuma Proving Ground this week in an exercise known as Seahorse Wind.
A total of 29 aircraft and roughly 650 Marines participated in the exercise, which the division hadn’t done in about a decade, according to Major Greg Chapman, with Marine Aircraft Group 39 (MAG-39), one of the aviation elements supporting the exercise.
MAG-39, like the 1st Marine Division, is based at Camp Pendleton in northern San Diego County, where the aircraft involved in the training exercise flew in from.
Marines from MCAS Yuma and MCAS Miramar were also involved.
The objective of the exercise was not only to simulate the seizure of an airfield at the northern end of YPG, but to integrate the infantrymen and aviation element on such a large, long-range scale.
“The complexity of something like this large-scale exercise, which would be something that we would do in actual conflict, is an absolute must,” said Col. Mike Borgschulte, commanding officer of MAG-39.
“This kind of training makes us better (and) more integrated across the full spectrum of the MAG-TAF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force),” he said. “It’s a very realistic training.”
The 29 aircraft that participated included MV-22 Ospreys, CH-53s, AH-1Zs (nicknamed Zulu Cobra), UH-1Ys (nicknamed Huey) and a C1-30 that transported Marines to YPG’s Laguna Army Airfield.
There were about 50 Marines operating on the ground as exercise control and others as opposing force role players, who had actually camped out at the remote location for two nights prior to the exercise. So did the reconnaissance Marines who parachuted in from Ospreys.
They were there, away from the known “threats,” to relay information about “enemy” vehicles and “opposing forces.”
Real world threat systems – Soviet-era tanks and Marines simulating opposing forces among them – were in place.
Part of the exercise was for the aircraft element to see the threats in their sensors from long range, communicate with the ground element that had been transported into the area, and “fight those threats and mitigate them,” Major Chapman said.
He said the integration of aviation and ground units are the ‘ “bread and butter.”
“While that’s something we practice a lot,” Chapman said, “we don’t necessarily get to do it on this scale with a battalion-sized element.”
The exercise, planned since June, included simulated firing from the aircraft, going through specific procedures that are in place without actually shooting.
“They do everything in the cockpit like they’d actually be shooting the weapon systems themselves.”
Another important objective for the Marines was doing the long-range exercise on unknown terrain that’s similar to environments where the U.S. is actively engaged in conflicts.
“It kind of looks like all the other deserts I’ve been to,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jackson Doan, commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines (nicknamed Darkhorse), based at Camp Pendleton. “If you look at rural environments in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Syria, Yemen – the environment is pretty similar.”
He said the unpredictable environment of the vast, rugged terrain at YPG, where most of the Marines had never trained before, “is something that Marines have to adapt to and overcome.”
“A large-scale exercise like this – to launch a full battalion into assault – takes a lot of coordination and a lot of planning,” Doan said.
He thought the execution of the exercise went well, and the battalion secured the airfield rather quickly.
While the training involved simulated threats and firing, there was no shortage of realism to the exercise.
Each Marine carried between 90 and 110 pounds of equipment, with Marines carrying communication equipment had about 120 pounds on their backs, and snipers hauled upward of 150 pounds.
“Just like in sports,” Chapman said, “you learn the lessons in practice.”