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MASS-3: glue between air-ground team

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/10/2004

Story by Staff Sgt. Houston F. White Jr.

AR RAMADI, Iraq(May 10, 2004) -- Cast in the uncommon role of an aviation unit collocating with the 1st Marine Division in a combat zone, the Marines of Marine Air Support Squadron 3, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are capable of accomplishing an impressive array of missions here.

According to Staff Sgt. Rodney B. Dantzler, air support operations chief, MASS-3, the primary goal of the unit is to tie in the air and ground picture for the 1st Marine Division.

"Our role here in Iraq is to provide them with casualty and medical evacuations, as well as providing them with rotary wing and fixed wing assets," said the 36-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., native.

Dantzler added that the direct air support center is made up of a main command element, as well as external air support liaison teams and one air support element. He also provided a brief breakdown of personnel.

"We have network operators, who are the enlisted Marines working inside the DASC, and then we have controllers, who are also called helicopter directors or senior air directors and are the Marine officers working there. We also have regular (communicators)," he added "that include (air traffic control communications technicians), as well as (electronics maintenance technician) Marines."

The data passed from the DASC Marines to combat personnel in the air and on the ground must be as accurate as possible, explained 2nd Lt. Mike Chan, air support controller, MASS-3.

"It's important that the pilots know where to go for their mission, any ground schemes of maneuver and that they have the newest information updates on any threats on the ground, before they depart to their zones," said the 25-year-old New York City native.

Chan added that because of the ever-changing nature of events on the battlefield, the DASC constantly updates information, which helps keep pilots and ground forces safe -- his top priority.

"There really are no words to describe the satisfaction of saving someone else's life," he emphasized.

Powering the crucial communications equipment used by the DASC is a constant challenge that the Marines of the MASS-3 utilities section are more than capable of handling, according to 20-year-old Cpl. Travis S. Yost, air conditioning mechanic, MASS-3.

"It's a great responsibility that the utilities section has right now, as far as power is concerned," confessed the Big Springs, W. Va., native. "Challenges that arise here with our generators and air conditioners are the extreme heat, wind and large amounts of sand blowing everywhere."

"Just as with any piece of equipment, it is important for us to perform preventative maintenance and limited technical inspections, because our main goal is to keep a constant flow of power to the DASC and communications sections of MASS-3. So far, we've been accomplishing that goal extremely well," he added.

In addition to aviation operations, MASS-3 also helps perform duties pertaining to ground movement, added Cpl. Adam M. Youngman, motor transport operator, MASS-3.

"We maintain the upkeep of vehicles so that when they go out on convoys they are in top condition and have armor installed in case they take enemy fire," said the 21-year-old Hartford, Vt., native. "We have our vehicles running convoys for personnel, equipment and security all the time."

Simultaneously performing functions that rest at opposite ends of the Marine Corps spectrum has served as a bonding influence instead of a divisive force between the unit and its dual commands, mentioned Sgt. Kevin E. Rankin, motor transport mechanic, MASS-3.

"We do grunt things out in the field and we do air wing things as well, so we pretty much have a taste of both worlds," noted the 36-year-old native of Jeffersonville, Ind. "Because of the environment that we're in with the enemy everywhere, our Marine Corps camaraderie always stands above the basic separation between the air wing and division back in the rear."

The value of possessing such a flexible asset in a combat environment isn't lost on Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general, 1st Marine Division.

"MASS-3 is the glue that holds the Marine air-ground team together," he offered. "They give us the information which allows us to coordinate our efforts to maneuver, track down and kill the enemy.

"You can have all the high-tech equipment you want, but (achieving success) eventually comes down to the individuals who put it to use," Mattis added.

Not surprisingly, the newly appointed commanding officer of MASS-3, Lt. Col. David F. Aumuller, native of Worthington, Ohio, also has a high opinion of the Marines under his command.

"I want to make it clear that I'm not biased, but the Marines of MASS-3 are the best Marines in the best Marine Corps in the world," he concluded.

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