MARINE CORPS AIR-GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS --
As the aviation combat element, MAG-29 led the 1,260 Marines, sailors and soldiers that made up the ACE and successfully completed over 2,600 flight hours in support of 1st Marine Division.
“It's our opportunity to integrate all elements of the MAGTF in a combined arms environment,” said Colonel Robert B. Finneran, the commanding officer of MAG-29 and the ACE commander during SLTE 3-21. “We got the opportunity to bring all the elements within 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing together under one ACE headquarters, provide support to simultaneous exercises and really test our mettle across the six functions of aviation.” These functions of Marine Corps aviation provided by the Marines of MAG-29 are offensive air support, anti-air warfare, assault support, air reconnaissance, electronic warfare and the control of aircraft and missiles.
Within SLTE 3-21, the ACE was focused on providing the maximum amount of support possible within a training environment which allowed ground units to maneuver through arduous desert terrain and assault objectives that would otherwise be out of their reach. “In this case we were pretty much able to bring all six functions of Marine aviation…certainly our offensive air support in the form of our Vipers, Venoms and Harriers…and our assault support capability via our CH-53s and our MV-22s.” The combination of air support through various weapons systems, the heavy lift transport, and the forward aerial refueling allows commanders to extend the battlespace in support of Marines on the ground who would otherwise have to carry heavy loads slowly across difficult terrain and still fight when they reach the objective.
Marine Air Group 29 operated from the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Facility at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. consistently maintaining and flying multiple aircraft to support a wide array of missions throughout the six week period. This required a non-stop rotation for continuous flights and professional support to the ground units involved. To do this, the Marines of MAG-29 created forward aerial refueling points, resupply convoys and expeditionary landing sites throughout the entire training area to be able to maneuver Marines of 1st Marine Division closer to their objectives. “For the Marines who have not gotten a chance to go overseas on deployment, this more than replicated that for them,” said Finneran.
The continuous flights, live fire exercises, and casualty evacuation drills carried out during the first four weeks were all practice for the final, force-on-force, MAGTF War Exercise in which the ACE had to integrate with and support both the exercise force and the adversary force. “We had 1st Marine Division going against one of their own subordinate elements, 7th Marine Regiment, who's stationed here at Twentynine Palms. The exercise itself is force-on-force—so no live ammunition—and then the ACE supported both sides”, said Finneran. The MAGTF War Exercise provided an exhausting five-day game-like scenario where Marines reacted to a creative and living opponent while pushing the limits of aircraft, technologies and personnel involved.
One of the main purposes for this training and an initial challenge was the integration of air and ground Marines from two separate coasts. “We fully integrated with General Turner, [1st Marine Division command general], with half of my staff. The other half of my staff was fully integrated with Colonel Good [7th Marine Regiment commanding officer] and 7th Marines.” The Marines from 1st Marine Division, based in California, and 2nd MAW, based in North Carolina, integrated their staffs and units for intense planning and a variety of missions. “You wouldn't have known that we just met four weeks prior. You would have thought we did a full pre-deployment workup cycle of six or more months with how well we could anticipate what they were requiring from the ACE and then how well we were able to support,” said Finneran. The divided ACE had to hold multiple planning meetings with each side’s leadership while keeping the planned flights and maneuvers hidden to ensure equal support.
The dual support was accomplished by using divided air flows, which meant aircraft from each squadron would be assigned to a specific side and alternate flying every two hours. During the entire exercise, a projected screen illustrated a chart of alternating red and blue stripes with specific times each squadron was assigned their role to play in order to maintain 24-hour support. This required round-the-clock maintenance cycles that tested the Marines at all hours of the day to keep aircraft ready and flying equally for both sides of the exercise.
Without the extensive planning and the dedication of maintainers and aircrew, the high tempo of aircraft continuously flying for each unit’s maneuver would never have happened. “We knew this was going to be a fantastic way to build readiness for all of my units as well as my attached units from 2nd MAW.” The actions of MAG-29 Marines and sailors during SLTE 3-21 proved in every facet of the exercise that when ground units call, America’s Air Wing answers.