News: Taking Flight: Reserve Marines play key role in Active aviation Course
Story by Sgt. Fenton Reese
NEW ORLEANS – More than 160 Marines from across the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing gathered in the hot sands of Yuma, Ariz., to participate in one of the largest MAW training schools in the Marine Corps: the Weapons, Tactics and Instructors’ Course.
WTI is a biannual, seven-week training evolution that trains pilots from every corner of Marine aviation to become experts in tactics and effective situational employment of their aircraft and weapons systems. The intent is to make those who complete the course fully capable of passing their knowledge on to newer pilots.
“This is more advanced tactical training than anything that happens normally in the fleet,” said Maj. Andrew Paynter, aircraft maintenance officer, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One.
WTI involves more than 200 instructors, 91 aircraft and more than 3,000 personnel, including a small number of troops from Britain, Australia and Canada. The school utilizes all aspects of aviation and includes every type of aircraft used by the Marine Corps.
“This is a higher level of learning….The [operational] tempo is three times higher than a normal squadron; the [number] of aircraft is much higher than a normal squadron would ever see…this is the most action any squadron will see outside of combat,” said Paynter.
This course is broken into two parts. First, students spend three and a half weeks in the classroom receiving instruction on their respective military occupational specialties, basic weapon systems and tactics. After the classes, the action begins as the students embark on a rigorous three-and-a-half-week flight curriculum designed to build their Marine Air-Ground Task Force execution skills by subjecting them through a variety of simulated real-world missions, such as transporting troops, providing close-air support, evacuating non-combatants and various combat action operations.
“It’s an all-out brawl,” said Maj. Robert Peterson, Operations Officer, Marine Fighter Training Squadron (VMFT) 401. “This training integrates both components, active and Reserve, to effectively execute all MAGTF capabilities.”
VMFT-401 is a Reserve fighter squadron known as the "Snipers." This squadron’s mission is to provide instruction to active and Reserve fleet Marine forces and fleet squadrons through dissimilar air combat training. The majority of VMFT-401's workload is their work-up and participation in WTI. They provide adversary work in offensive anti-air warfare and anti-air warfare exercises or “Red Air” support during each training evolution. They are the only adversary squadron in the Marine Corps.
“We replicate tactics and pilots of threat countries…we start with the basics and then move to larger operations. We start with [fewer] aircraft and then we move to more and more intense operations,” said Peterson. “We even surprise them during their set missions.”
In addition to direct aerial support and participation in the exercise, the Reserve played a key role in the logistical support of the training as well.
“The Reserve provides an extreme impact on the training: providing aircraft, active refueling, maintenance and administration,” said Maj. Clint Weber, operations officer, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG)-41.
More than 160 Marines from multiple Reserve squadrons such as VMFT-401, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 4, Marine Air Support Squadron (MASS) 6, MAG-49, Marine Air Control Group (MACG) 48 and MAG 41, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MALS) 41 and 49, provided vital equipment and support from aerial refueling, flight line ground support, aircraft maintenance and aircraft itself to the exercise. This support made many aspects of this training, that otherwise would not have been feasible, possible, he said.
“The Reserve force is integrated into every major evolution at WTI,” said Peterson.
According to Master Gunnery Sgt. William Lloyd, maintenance chief with WTI, the benefits from this training evolution were mutual between the participants and the support, specifically for the Reserve.
“The training is very good for those who participate in better preparing them for combat operations from a frontline and rear support perspective…in addition, the Reserve has the opportunity to get that added flight time and utilize some new equipment that their units haven’t gotten yet but will receive very soon,” said Lloyd.
Peterson agreed on the mutual benefit of the training; however, he saw it from a more intangible viewpoint.
“We are a unique Reserve entity. Because of that, we have a number of very experienced guys who can bring a lot to the table on all levels, specifically teaching younger, learning pilots,” he said. “But, also by participating we are always learning from each other. Every time we come, we learn something new, which better prepares us to teach our units in the future.”
As the seven-week marker passes, another evolution of WTI comes to an end. When the aircraft land, the missions are completed and the dust settles, a force of more than 3,000 active and Reserve Marines return to their home stations better, stronger and more capable to act as a combined force to complete any mission set before them and teach their Marines to do the same.