For more than 11 years, the U.S. Marine Corps has been engaged in combat operations in the Middle East. In that time the way we fight has drastically changed to counter the tactics of our adversaries. This can be seen clearly in the evolution of our training as the years have progressed. Now, as ever, we continue to adapt ourselves to the future of warfare with training that fits the new face of conflict.
The first Integrated Training Exercise (ITX), which brings Marine air, ground, and logistics elements together in one all-encompassing combined arms exercise, began Jan. 11, 2013 for the air combat element (ACE) led by Marine Aircraft Group 13 and will end Feb. 8 at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The ITX is designed to replace Enhanced Mojave Viper and bring all the different aspects of a Marine Air Ground Task Force together for numerous simulated missions that mirror those the MAGTF will perform on deployment. The purpose of the ITX is to keep a trained professional military force and to help drive the move away from sustainment operations, as practiced by EMV, back to the combined arms operations for which the Corps is famed. However, the lessons learned in counter-insurgency tactics through Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are not forgotten. This training aims to bring the full USMC arsenal to bear in combat operations while maintaining the ability to engage an insurgent force.
“The ITX is the next evolution of the combined arms exercise,” said Capt. Michael Merlini, the acting MAG-13 communications officer and a native of Abbington, Penn. “Doing exercises like this is crucial for units that will be deploying overseas.”
“The ITX is taking the Marine Corps out of the OEF mindset, and going more to a global one that’s working on the integration of all the branches and facets of the Marine Corps,” said Maj. David Slay, the MAG-13 future plans officer of Escondido, Calif. “It exposes us to parts of the Marine Corps we normally wouldn’t see.”
In addition to expanding the depth of experiences of participating Marines, the ITX provides the opportunity to practice the crucial skills involved with drawing together different arms of the Corps toward a common goal.
“I’ve been with the air side for the past five years and change, and they are very good at what they do,” said Merlini. “But when it comes to integrating their actions with other combat elements, that’s not something they get to do on a day-to-day basis. Evolutions like this bring all the pieces together and simulate what it’s really going to be like.”
“A large part of this exercise is set up and take down,” added Merlini. “Once everything is up, the operations run at a slower pace. This leaves us with time for unique training opportunities for our Marines, such as sending a radioman who is experienced with the aviation side over to (2nd Battalion., 4th Marines) to get a taste of his job on the ground side.”
From wing Marines observing mortar and artillery barrages to administration Marines riding UH-1 Huey helicopters and watching the process of building, loading and deploying a bomb, Marines are broadening their horizons and seeing the grand scale of what their work achieves.
“They get to see the fruits of their labor,” said Merlini. “Marines who sit behind a desk all day get to see how they are helping to accomplish the mission. This helps us all to deploy together and work together.”
In order to be successful, the ACE performs a tremendous range of operations in support of allied ground forces or in direct engagement with enemy forces. These operations include basic air to surface, close air support, armed reconnaissance, air interdiction, defensive counter air and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel.
“Getting back into the squadron mission mindset has been a large gain for me,” said Capt. Rasheed Bakkar, the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 flight officer of Seattle. “From the piloting side, we’ve seen some good flights here, a lot of the stuff we will be doing on the (Marine Expeditionary Unit).”
Throughout the duration of the exercise, MAG-13, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., commands the UH-1 Hueys and AH-1 Cobras of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, which hails from MCAS New River, N.C.; HMM-268’s CH-46 Sea Knights, from MCAS Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, of Twentynine Palms and the AV-8B Harriers of Marine Attack Squadron 311, which normally reside at MCAS Yuma. Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, hailing from MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, also native to MCAS Yuma, are providing support for the ACE.
Wherever the future may take us, it will surely prove to be as dynamic as our past. This means we will produce Marine Corps training, ITX included, that is constantly evolving. What we see today may look nothing like the world of two years hence. But we can be sure that what is required of the Corps will change, so what we require of ourselves must also change.