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Marines watch the skies


Story by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel

Marines watch the skies CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - When a convoy moves across open ground, it has to prepare for threats from all directions. There could be improvised explosive devises buried in the road, an ambush waiting just around the next hill or an aircraft flying in to strike from above.

Marines with 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, defended a convoy from air attacks during an exercise with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd MAW, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Aug. 25, 2015.

The Marines are part of a specialized unit that focuses on providing defense from the ground against low altitude aircraft assaults. In this exercise, HMLA-169 provided an AH-1Z Cobra helicopter to simulate attacks on the convoy.

“We want to give the Marines the most realistic training possible,” said 1st Lt. Cristobal Lara, the executive officer for Battery B, 3rd LAAD Bn. “Usually, we only get air support like this during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course once a year, which is coming up soon.”

The training consisted of a six-vehicle convoy being attacked by helicopter as they drove up the road. When the aircraft approached the convoy, one vehicle would pull off the road and engage it with a dummy FIM-92 Stinger missile while the others continued on the route.

“It’s good training to try to defend a moving convoy,” said Cpl. John Graham, a gunner with 3rd LAAD Bn. “If we had to move personnel or cargo, we could roll with them to defend them from any air attack.”

Taking down an enemy aircraft as it flies in for the kill requires both skill and speed. From the time they see the aircraft, the Marines have less than 20 seconds to fire the missile, said Graham.

“We want to take it down as quickly as possible,” said Graham. “If it’s on the attack, it’s flying low so as soon as we see it we have to move.”

After every time the convoy engaged the Cobra, the convoy commander sent a report back to the command operations center with the exact time the missile would have been fired.

“When the exercise is complete, we will compare our reports with the times the aircraft engaged the convoy to see how we did,” said Lara.

Having an actual aircraft to work with during the training meant the Marines also got to practice identifying whether or not an aircraft is an enemy.

“What I hope the Marines learn from this is how to recognize a hostile profile for an aircraft,” said Lara. “That will allow us to properly employ our teams and engage the threat.”

Determining if an aircraft is a threat, operating radios and tactical vehicles, and proficiency with multiple weapons systems are only a few of the skills that every Marine in the unit must have.

“There are a lot of things the Marines have to know at a junior level, and it’s very challenging,” said Lara. “It’s good to see them train and excel.”

Lara explained that 3rd LAAD conducted this exercise to help them prepare for WTI, an annual training event with advanced instruction on air-ground combat. Realistic training allows Marines to remain effective in increasingly complex environments around the world.

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