Ask any Marine at Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 and they’ll say the unit is a different beast to tame than any in the Marine Corps, due in no small part to the unit’s biannual Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course.
This isn’t a sentiment shared by only MAWTS-1 instructors and students; the S-shops, mainstays in any Corps unit that include administrative duties, intelligence liaison, operations clerks, logisticians, safety coordinators and communications specialists, also feel the brunt of WTI.
“MAWTS-1 utilizes resources like a special-purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, with MAWTS-1 standing in as the command element,” said Cpl. William Ferguson, a MAWTS-1 S-4 logistician and a native of Springfield, Mo.
Though they may not be flying aircraft or teaching Marines integrated operations, the S-shop Marines work diligently to ensure the approximately 3,000 Marines supporting WTI have what they need to function effectively.
“We’re in the business of helping Marines, plain and simple,” said Sgt. Andrew Gutierrez, the MAWTS-1 S-1 administration non-commissioned officer-in-charge and a native of Fannin, Texas. “The Marines out there can’t do their jobs if they’re worried about scruples like pay all the time.”
The MAWTS-1 administrative clerks are responsible for adjusting any clerical issues with MAWTS-1 and WTI Marines, including pay problems, judicial obstacles and awards.
“The volume of work is different here, especially with WTI,” said Gutierrez, whose previous duty station included Headquarters Marine Corps in Quantico, Va. “A normal S-1, things come in, things come out, and they call it quits for the end of the day. We can’t do that. When (4:30 p.m.) rolls around, we can’t just go home.”
The notion isn’t exclusive to S-1; like the rest of the squadron, the S-shops are guaranteed a 6-7-day work week.
While some 9-5 Marines may see this as a boon, MAWTS-1 Marines choose to see this as a plus.
“MAWTS is full of the most intelligent, professional people in the Marine Corps,” said Capt. Christine Mazzocco, the MAWTS-1 S-2 assistant intelligence officer and a native of Lexington, Ky.
Also an instructor, Mazzocco teaches her students how to properly assess intel to better support commanders. She said MAWTS-1 allows Marines to witness and partake in several different Corps functions at once rather than being confined to a one-sided mission.
“When I was at (Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron) 362, I concentrated on the heavy lift helicopter,” she said. “MAWTS-1 exposes us to all different type/model/series and departments with the MAGTF.”
Even Marines for who MAWTS-1 is their first tour of duty are aware just how different being a part of the squadron is.
“I’ve been here for quite a long time,” said Cpl. Giovanni Cuapio, a MAWTS-1 S-3 operations clerk and a native of Queens, N.Y. “You get to see how people progress. When you see them come back here, or when you see them leave here, you know you’ve had an impact on them by keeping their records accurate.”
The sheer amount of flight hours during WTI sheds new light on the word accuracy for the S-3 operations clerks; they must screen and maintain the flight hours for the pilots so the pilots are aware of their own qualifications.
As for logisticians of S-4, they’re charged with transporting resources to the more than 20 operational sites used during WTI.
“I take it a day at a time,” said Ferguson, also on his first tour of duty. “Without planning, I would’ve failed a long time ago.”
Like the other S-shops, S-4 works with limited resources to achieve goals, such as designating vehicles to the pilots for transportation and trucking items like ice and dumpsters out to the sites.
Also on the go is the sites ground safety officer, who works in the S-5 safety department, more commonly known as the Department of Safety and Standardization.
“When WTI is in session I act as the GSO as well as the MAWTS-1 Road Master,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Marchie, a native of Hoquiam, Wash. and, until he came to MAWTS-1, an AV-8B Harrier airframes mechanic. “I spend all day everyday on the road driving from site to site ensuring our WTI personnel are operating in a safe manner. I also pay close attention to all tactical and government vehicles that operate during WTI and, when requested, I will provide convoy support to the ground units coming into and out of the operating area.”
That leaves S-6, the communications department, who are especially crucial early on in WTI when they’re tasked with setting up communications systems to ensure a smooth flow of correspondence.
“It’s more hands-on here during WTI,” said Lance Cpl. Nelson Alvarez, a MAWTS-1 data network specialist augment originally from Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 and a native of Victorville, Calif.
Because MAWTS-1 does not use Navy/Marine Corps Intranet like most other units on base, Alavarez said he feels he has more room to grow, as he and the other Marines can make their own modifications on the network whereas back at MWSS-371, they must adhere to NMCI’s functions.
“I’m definitely going back a better Marine who’s more practiced in my (military occupational specialty),” he said.
Each section notes changes in a single evolution, and uses these lessons learned to assess how they will act and react during the next WTI, the purpose being to make the next WTI better than the last.
It’s a lot of work. A lot of rewarding work.
“It’s an honor to be part of MAWTS-1 because it has a great reputation,” said Cpl. Angela Pernell, a MAWTS-1 S-3 operations clerk and a native of Hollidaysburg, Penn. “The Marines we work with make that reputation. It’s motivating.”
“I love MAWTS-1,” added Gutierrez. “This organization is totally different than anything else in the Marine Corps.
After another successful round of WTI, the S-shops take a short breather, before beginning the planning stages of the next one less than a month later.