OKINAWA, Japan -- As hundreds of Marines with Marine Aircraft Group 36 and Marine Air Control Group 18 staged in the early hours of Friday morning with all the equipment to sustain operations for a short period of time, leaders and planners observed the culmination of 48 hours of tireless execution. During the previous two days multiple squadrons from across 1st Marine Aircraft Wing scrambled to plan and respond to a no-notice drill designed to surprise and test their ability to respond at a moment’s notice to any contingency.
Marines with 1st MAW conducted this Alert Contingency Marine Air-Ground Taskforce (ACM) drill from May 19 to May 21 in order to maintain readiness as the III Marine Expeditionary Force’s Air Combat Element of the ACM in the Indo-Pacific.
The Indo-Pacific region is a disaster-prone area, and the ACM must be ready to respond to contingencies that cannot be predicted. In preparation for a possible humanitarian assistance or disaster relief mission, 1st MAW flexed its muscles to showcase its current readiness posture.
When the exercise order was issued by the commanding general, 1st MAW, in response to a notional natural disaster, MAG-36 immediately established a planning cell to prepare for and support the contingency response. This drill was designed to test the planning, staging and loading of gear and equipment as well readying aircraft for take-off within a 48-hour window.
The commanding officer of MAG-36 acted as the ACE commander in the scenario and provided aircraft to include, MV-22B Ospreys, CH-53Es and UH-1Ys to transport equipment and personnel. To mimic aircraft self-deployment to another country in the region, the aircraft were outfitted for long-range flight operations capabilities. “This drill allowed the MAG the ability to test our squadrons’ capabilities and processes required to support the ACM,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Alissandratos, the executive officer of MAG-36 who acted as the lead planner for much of the drill. “This was a great opportunity for us to test and refine our established procedures. The exercise is also vital because it will help shape our recommendations to the 1st MAW and III MEF commanders on the composition and execution of the ACE within the ACM which will ultimately posture us to better respond to any contingency.”
Within 24 hours of notification Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 deployed two MV-22B Ospreys to embark Marines with 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, 3d Marine Division.
Marine Wing Communications Squadron 18 was the MACG-18 unit tasked with providing vital command and control capabilities for the ACE for this drill. After receiving notice of the ACM drill MWCS-18 packed away their gear set, loaded it on MTVRs then staged it on the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to be transported by mobility aircraft. 2ndLt Casey Killeen with MWCS-18 said that “drills like these are important because we need to be able to deploy at a moment’s notice and with a short-notice fly-away ACM drill, we are able to train how we fight.”
Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 172 provided aviation ground support during the drill. Similar to MWCS-18, MWSS-172 received the drill alert and began kinetic movements immediately. They were tasked to provide various equipment such as tactical fuel systems and expeditionary lighting for runways and landing zones. This and other equipment was prepped, loaded and transported to another location to be inspected. The ACM drill “allows the unit to gauge how long it takes us to carry out our aviation support mission from planning to execution,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Kondrat, the logistics chief at MWSS-172. “It gives us a chance to practice operations on short notice and ensure that we are better trained and prepared for a real-world scenario.”
Part of the MWSS-172 mission is to provide food services. Food service specialists with MWSS-172 wrapped pallets of rations, which were then forklifted and loaded onto motor transport vehicles by logistics and embarkation specialists, to be driven to a staging location by motor vehicle operators for the equipment to be inspected by mobility personnel. “It’s important that the sections work together to ensure we are ready on the spot,” said Cpl. Teodoro Lopez J.R., embarkation specialist with MWSS-172. “We prepare for any ACM through MCCRE [Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation], FCLP [Fleet Carrier Landing Practice] and daily operations, and if we are activated, we will be ready.”
As is evident in the execution of the AMC drill, 1st MAW’s readiness relies on all components being prepared individually and coming together in order to plan and successfully execute its mission. The ACM drill was conducted to ensure that the ACE remains postured and ready to deploy anywhere in the region, with little notice, should the need arise.
Rapid deployment exercises and drills are essential to maintaining and improving operational capabilities and upholding its commitments to ally and partner nation in the Indo-Pacific. 1st MAW is and will continue to be ready to Fight Now.