AL ASAD, Iraq -- The aim of Marine aviation is simple – support the Marines on the ground from the air.
However, the work that goes with supporting that mission is extremely intricate and requires a gamut of Marines and sailors working in extremely technical areas to ensure the job is done.
Behind the scenes of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) lies the heart of operations, the Tactical Aviation Command Center, where missions and operations are planned and tracked.
Responsible for ensuring the command center and commanding general’s staff there have the tools they need to complete their important tasks are the Marines of Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 28.
“It’s a complex mission,” said MTACS-28 commanding officer, Lt. Col. Robert C. Schutz, a native of Baltimore, Md. “We are responsible for the maintenance and day to day running of the commanding general’s command post.”
Many things go into ensuring the command center is capable of sustaining combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Marines of MTACS-28 provide everything from electricity and air-conditioning, to computer infrastructure and radio communications.
“We are the senior agency within the Marine control group,” Schutz said. “We pull all the other agencies together and present the information they provide to the commanding general and his battle staff.”
The amazing technology that allows the staff sections of the wing to track and coordinate operations requires the most basic of needs, electricity.
The Marines of the squadron’s utilities section work each day to ensure a constant flow of power to the command center, and to keep the sensitive equipment up and running.
“Without utilities, there would be no power to run the equipment, no air-conditioning to cool the sensitive computers,” said Lance Cpl. Paul D. Popailo, refrigeration mechanic and native of Keansburg, N.J. “We give them the power they need to complete their mission.”
Responsible for operating and maintaining 16 generators and 45 air conditioning units, the utilities Marines provide totally independent tactical power and cooling to the operations center.
“Power and air-conditioning are like oxygen, no one notices them untill they aren’t there,” Schutz said. “The command post cannot exist without them.”
Walking into the command center is like walking into a scene from “The Matrix,” computers and data servers dominate the view. The squadron’s communications and electronics section ensure these systems are capable of providing data.
“We make sure the data feeds are routed properly so they get to the Marines that need to see them,” said Cpl. Ryan S. Robinson, tactical data systems repairman and native of Ormond Beach, Fla. “We run and maintain the servers that provide the data to the command floor.”
The data that flows through the command center is vital to the success of 2nd MAW(Fwd) operations, providing everything from live video feeds from unmanned-aerial vehicles to the location of troops and aircraft.
“It’s an amazing place to be,” Robinson continued. “Seeing everything come together, and know that it’s a direct response to your job. It’s fulfilling to see the fruits of your labor, and how it affects the big picture.”
Because Marine aviation’s soul purpose is to support the war fighter on the ground, communication between ground units and air support is vital.
The squadron’s aviation radio Marines ensure that communication between the wing and subordinate units, as well as Marines on the ground, stays clear and open.
Employing many radio and satellite communications methods, the Marines keep the avenues of communication open throughout the area of operations.
“Our equipment allows us to integrate our command and control data with the data of other agencies,” said Gunnery Sgt. Shayne M. LaCoste, aviation radio technician and native of Morgan City, La. “We can then forward that information to higher headquarters and paint an overall picture of operations throughout the Marine [Corps’] area of responsibility.”
Because infantry Marines, tankers and artillerymen don’t trail miles of fiber optic cable behind them as they operate on the ground, radio communications are vital to providing close air support.
“The high-speed stuff is great,” LaCoste said. “However, the Marines on the ground are going to be on a radio. The capabilities we provide allow the commanding general’s staff to have greater situational awareness of what is happening on the battlefield.”
Tying together all the assets that the squadron provides are the MTACS-28 Marines who work on the floor of the command center. Working in conjunction with Marines and sailors in the commanding general’s staff, the current operations section observes, tracks and oversee almost every function of the 2nd MAW(Fwd)
“We take the plan that future operations puts together and ensure it is executed,” said Maj. William J. McWaters, senior air coordinator and native of Scottsbluff, Neb. “We coordinate aircraft to get where they are needed, as fast as possible, to support the Marines on the ground.”
Although the squadron is responsible for the crucial functions of the tactical aviation command center, teamwork within the command and control community is vital to their success.
“There are Marines and sailors from multiple squadrons and units who work together in the command center to contribute to our overall success,” Schutz said. “It takes each one of us to provide the commanding general and his staff with the information they need to make timely and accurate decisions.”
Arriving in February, the Marines and sailors of MTACS-28 have remained steadfast in their job to support the command center. Through their day-to-day tasks, renovations and improvements, and mission at hand: command and control, the Marines are doing their part to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“They are a small group of dedicated Marines,” Schutz said. “The work they do everyday and the work ethic they possess is outstanding.”
*For more information about the Marines or news reported on in this
story, please contact Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis by e-mail at defilippisrc@acemnf-