Working together to complete a common goal is the backbone of the Marine Corps and something that the pilots learn quickly at the beginning stages of flight training. Many new Marine pilots travel to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma throughout the year to receive follow-on aviation training, and for good reason.
“Coming out here I have really begun to see how the entire Marine Corps works together to train each individual and how so many Marines work tirelessly just to make sure we complete our mission as Marine Corps pilots,” said 1st Lt. Donald Groves, a native of Germantown, Tenn.
Groves, along with Capt. Eric Galloway, a native of Conover, N.C., are serving as category one fleet replacement pilots for Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 and are getting the best of what MCAS Yuma has to offer to new and experienced Marine Corps pilots.
Fleet replacement pilots are either newly winged aviators (Category I), aviators transitioning from one type aircraft to another (Category II), or aviators returning to the cockpit after a period of non-flying (Category III). After completing the training regimen, graduates are assigned to fleet squadrons throughout the Marine Corps.
VMAT-203’s main responsibility is to train new Marine Corps pilots to fly the AV-8B Harrier. Also known as Hawks, the squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 14. Although, while training in Yuma most of the pilots like Groves and Galloway fall under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 13.
“Right now we work for MAG-13 while we’re out here, the Colonel (MAG-13 CO, Col. Michael Gough),” said Galloway, a native of Conover. “We definitely want to make the most of the opportunity and get the best out of the training the Marine Corps has tasked us with.”
The new replacement pilots for VMAT-203 have never been challenged with the training that MCAS Yuma offers. More comfortable with east coast ranges and aviation training, these pilots are not used to this terrain or climate. They also have to get used to the nearly 30 different flight ranges that MCAS Yuma offers, compared to the four at MCAS Cherry Point.
“Yuma gives us much more of a real combat environment with all the different ranges. They can throw almost any kind of scenario at you,” said Groves. “Coming out here has caused me to stay on my toes a lot more than I ever have before and, I know that I can’t get too comfortable. That’s what I was really hoping to get out from it. Just help me find that new level of focus that I know you need to be a successful Marine Corps pilot,” added Groves.
MCAS Yuma is currently the busiest air station in the Marine Corps, offering excellent year-round flying conditions and thousands of acres of open terrain for realistic air-to-air and air-to-ground tactical operations training and associated restricted airspace for military flight operations. The training that Groves and Galloway have gained from the air station is one of the more valuable necessities that MCAS Yuma offers in support of maintaining a ready and agile Marine Corps aviation capability.