YUMA, Ariz. - Hundreds of Marines from units throughout the Corps filled the Sonoran Pueblo club aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., April 27, to see their hard work and dedication come to fruition. This is the day these Marines have waited 7 long strenuous weeks for – graduation day. After countless 15-hour work days over a span of what may have seemed like an eternity, they have officially graduated from Weapons and Tactics Instructor course 2-14.
Major Brett McGregor, Tactical Air Department Head for Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 and WTI instructor, still remembers how he felt on his graduation day four years ago.
“I remember being a student and the feeling was exhaustion on that day. It is also a lot of relief and a lot of pride because they definitely earned it,” said McGregor. “They should be proud of what they’ve done. Seven weeks doesn’t sound long but, when you are here doing it as a student, it is very long and you get a feeling that you don’t quite know what just happened.”
McGregor explained that most students don’t fully understand what they have just accomplished. That feeling sets in once they’ve left Yuma, returned to their units and suddenly regarded differently. They are looked at as a person who is an expert, not only in their area of responsibility, but also in the components and aspects of the Marine Air Ground Task Force as a whole.
“Though the course was just extensive planning, it was an extremely challenging curriculum,” said Capt. Michael Radigan, a pilot with Marine Helicopter Light Attack Training Squadron 303 and WTI 2-14 student. “You get to do and see things that you’ll never get to do in training otherwise. The experiences that I’ve had here will definitely prepare me for any future operations.”
One of the main missions of WTI is to put together a venue where the capabilities of Marine Corps aviation can be maximized. Specifically, what makes Marine Corps aviation very unique and effective, is the ability to integrate all the capabilities into a single goal. That joint collaboration allows the Marine Corps aviators to execute as part of a MAGTF.
“In order to capitalize on all the capabilities that [Marine Corps aviation] has, you have to bring everyone together in one location and plan and execute together,” said McGregor. “As a student, it is not a test to see how good they are at flying their aircraft, it’s a test to see how well you can fight with the MAGTF as a whole; how well you can fit into the team and be effective from the bigger picture.”
Part of the training consists of learning how to execute operations to support the ground units; the pilots become their eye in the sky. For example, when doing the planning for training exercises, the ground combat department at MAWTS-1 is always present to ensure that coordination with the ground units is at the forefront of the pilots’ minds.
“I’ll continue to teach, continue to practice, and instill flying tactically sound, holding the highest standards possible,” said Radigan. “Most important is to remember that the only reason we exist as pilots is to support that guy on the ground.”
During the WTI course there are multiple training evolutions. Different infantry units come here from installations Corps-wide to conduct pre-deployment type training in conjunction with the pilots. This gives both the ground and aviation components a realistic experience of what they may encounter overseas.
“These exercises accomplish pre-deployment training as well as integrating the MAWTS-1 air component to get some training that they probably couldn’t get done otherwise, since there are so many aircraft utilized during the course,” said McGregor. “It’s a great opportunity for both sides to get some really good training accomplished.”
Twice a year, during WTI, over 4,000 augments arrive on station to participate in the course. To support this population explosion and enable WTI to run smoothly, station personnel put in hundreds, if not thousands, of behind-the-scenes hours.
“We bring in augment [WTI] instructors and other additional augments for duties to make this place run,” said McGregor. “Gate guards, chow hall, combat camera, maintainers, explosive ordnance people, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of examples of who is brought in from other bases in support of WTI.”
One of the key components that make this course a success is the support the station receives during WTI from the local community.
“We get a lot of community support where everybody thinks this is a good idea and that this is a good experience not only for us but for them,” said McGregor. “It’s also really hard to find good training space like this these days. We have all this open area to work with in all the ranges.”
Graduating from the course is a great honor that only a handful of service members have the opportunity to accomplish; especially since students must be selected in order to attend the course.
The Marine selected is generally someone who has excelled in the Marine Corps, is good at their particular job, and has shown the capacity to train. The WTI instructors are building these students into capable instructors; sharing knowledge and expertise.
These students were identified by their command as someone who has the potential to make their unit better when they return. Preparation is key; studying and training are essential in the weeks before coming to the WTI course.
“You need to show up ready. What we tell the Marines when they check in is that this is a marathon of an event; it takes a lot of effort to get through, you have to pace yourself,” said McGregor. “Before coming you have to have a basic level of preparation or else you are going to fall out on mile seven of the run.”
As for the future of WTI and MAWTS-1, the course as a whole will remain similar to the present curriculum. In about 2 years, MAWTS-1 expects their first F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter pilots to participate in the course.