Photo Information

A C130J Hercules from Marine Aerial Transport Refueler Squadron 252 refuels a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 142 F/A-18 Hornet 20,000 feet in the air during combat operations over Iraq.

Photo by Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Aviation Combat Element excels during River Blitz

10 Mar 2005 | Cpl. C. Alex Herron

On Feb. 20, 2005 Marines, Sailors and soldiers attached to the 1st Marine Division and Iraqi Security Forces increased security operations throughout the Al Anbar Province for Operation River Blitz.

The security measures in and around the provincial capital, Ramadi, were designed to ensure the safety of the local Iraqis from insurgents by controlling access into the city.  Access control points screened vehicles for insurgents and weapons, munitions and materials to produce improvised explosive devices.

“We were asked by the Iraqi government to increase our security operations in the city to locate, isolate and defeat anti-Iraqi forces and terrorists, who are intent on preventing a peaceful transition of power between the interim Iraqi government and the Iraqi transitional government,” said Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division in a 1st Marine Expeditionary Force press release.

The 1st Marine Division also increased security in several cities along the Euphrates River, including the cities of Hit, Baghdadi and Hadithah.

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing began the air operations in support of River Blitz only to officially turn over responsibility to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Mar. 1. The 2nd MAW promptly continued with the mission supporting coalition forces on the ground.

Before any aircraft could fly in support of River Blitz, requests for air support had to be turned in to the aviation combat elements operations section so they could formulate an air tasking order.

“We chose which missions to fly based on the availability of aircraft and mission priority,” said Lt. Col. John Kane, future operations officer, aviation combat element, and Littleton, Colo. native.

With the massive number of requests coming in for aviation support, the missions were prioritized to make sure the essential missions were filled first.

“We always have more request than available aircraft,” Kane said. “It is a challenge to fulfill all of the requests, but we ensured we did not put anyone in a bind.”

The diversity of aircraft types aboard Al Asad, Iraq allowed the 2nd MAW to use a variety of aircraft for the different types of missions during River Blitz.  

“We had our CH-46s providing troop transport and casualty evacuation missions, while the Army’s 571st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) took care of medical evacuations,” Kane said.

The Marines’ CH-46s took care of the casevac missions that go to the battlefield to transport casualties to a care facility, while the 571st’s Black hawks transported the casualties from a treatment center to higher levels of care.

Along with the CH-46’s the 2nd MAW had other helicopter squadrons aiding the troops on the ground in accomplishing their objectives. The AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1N Hueys from Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron-269 provided close air support for the fight on the ground.

The AV-8B Harriers and crews of Marine Attack Squadron 311 pulled their weight during River Blitz also. With VMFA-242 preparing to leave, flying many of the sorties for fixed wing aircraft fell on the shoulders of the Tomcats.

“The Tomcats picked up the slack and did a phenomenal job,” Kane said. “They were there while our Hornet squadron was winding down from their deployment.”

With all of the different aspects of Marine aviation lending their specialties to the fight, the aviation combat element proved to be an integral part of the Marines fighting force.

“The ACE provides flexibility of movement with the element of surprise,” Kane said. “Marine aviation boasts the most lethal firepower the MAGTF has in its arsenal. The coordination between the aviation combat element and the ground combat element was key to the success of this operation.”

With the operation over, it is easy to see what the Marine air has done to help accomplish the objectives for the operation. With the help of the aircraft wings more than 300 flight hours in support of more than 190 sorties, Marines on the ground detained more than 215 suspected insurgents, 50 rifles and 500 mortar rounds.

“We want to continue to support the [Marine Expeditionary Force] and Iraqi Security Force by keeping airplanes in the air when needed,” said Lt. Col. Scott Wedemeyer, wing battle captain and Rockingham, N.C. native. “We will be there with the right aviation capability, at the right time and place, with the right effect at sustained rates.”

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