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On the hook: Marine FACs see other side of Corps during OIF 2

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 20051105226
Story by Cpl. Paul Leicht

AR RAMADI, Iraq (Jan. 10, 2005) -- Coordinating critical assets for Marine ground commanders, former 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing pilots serving in Iraq as forward air controllers deliver close air support while sharing the up-close combat experiences of Marines on the ground.

Seldom separated from their field radio and division air officers, they are ‘on the hook’ on the front lines directing a variety of aircraft missions, whether it is a casualty evacuation or guiding ordnance onto enemy targets.

“Basically in a typical company the mission of a FAC is to set up close air support requests, (casualty evacuations), or any other kind of assault support request,” said Maj. Rick A. “Rico” Uribe, a pilot and forward air controller assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment. “It could be moving the company in support of a mission or simply getting a single Marine to another location.”

Working hand-in-hand with a battalion’s company commanders, FACs bring much to the combat operations table.

“It’s essential to not only have the proper gear, whether it be the summer or winter, but more importantly you have to know your weapon systems, the capabilities of aircraft, weaponeering (i.e. what different ammunitions can do to various targets), capabilities of aircraft from all services because you could be controlling their aircraft too,” said Uribe. “FACs must know all of that because you have no time to look it up during battle. It is also important to make sure the ground combat element commander understands what you as a FAC bring to the table and that what you do as a FAC is ultimately his responsibility. You are supporting him and his scheme of maneuver, so it is essential that you are on the same wavelength.”

All pilots do not necessarily become FACs. Typically a pilot will leave his squadron and go to FAC school and then be assigned to a ground unit for a tour.

Formerly a KC-130 pilot with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 and member of 1st Air/Naval Gunfire Liaison Company from 1996 to 1998, Uribe has spent a large portion of his Marine Corps career as a pilot and in the field.

“Typically when a FAC joins a unit they are with them for about 10 months to a year,” explained the Hacienda Heights, Calif., native who, after seven months in Iraq, will return to his job at the Pentagon with Headquarters Marine Corps Aviation.

“During that time you do not fly at all unless you are on special orders,” said Capt. Jarret Stricker who is a native of Lowell, Mont., and a FAC air officer currently with 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and an AV-8B Harrier II pilot with Marine Attack Squadron 513. Depending on how long you have been out, when you roll back to your squadron you have to refresh. As far as what you get out of it, you learn a lot about the ground side of things and what we are supporting, so that when you go back to the cockpit you have a better understanding of what you do.”

“When a pilot is assigned a tour as a FAC, he experiences a part of the Corps that few have the privilege to experience,” said Uribe. “The bottom line is we are here to support the infantry Marine”

Uribe said he sees all Marines as warriors who simply have different skill sets to do their respective jobs and accomplish the overall mission.

“I think most pilots realize that we are here to support the ground combat element,” explained Uribe. “We are there to help the Marine with a rifle seize his objective. Whatever his mission is we are here to help him.”

Being able to work up close with Marines on the ground has changed him.

“It’s interesting…getting shot at,” explained Uribe, who during the battle for Fallujah in November 2004 experienced a close call when the house he and some Marines were positioned in took numerous hits from rocket propelled grenades, sending a broken concrete wall on top of him.

“We really thought we lost Maj. Uribe that time,” said Cpl. Daniel R. Benn who, along with Lance Cpl. Preston Crawford from Friendswood, Texas, is a member of the battalion tactical air control party can step in and call in CAS for the FAC if necessary. “We pulled him out from under the collapsed wall thinking he was gone, but he was alright except for his feet which took some shrapnel and he messed-up his shoulder.”

With only a few hours sleep during the previous 60 hours, the Marines simply found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“In Fallujah we were fighting in a 5 kilometer by 4 kilometer city and had air stacked above the city,” said Uribe. “There were times when I was controlling multiple sections during an enemy engagement. There were approximately 30 FACs doing the same thing. The lessons learned here will at minimum rewrite how the Marine Corps and our brethren in other services conduct close air support in an urban environment.”

It was a rude awakening for Uribe.

“That night I was convinced there was somebody looking out for me, because other Marines in the house got hit with shrapnel, one in the eye,” said Uribe. “Five of us got hit and three needed to be (medically evacuated). One lucky hit and you could be gone. You notice the incoming fire, but you don’t ponder on it because you still have a job to do. If you don’t do your job then people are going to get hurt or killed.”

Uribe said that he regrets that he has to leave the Marines of “Bravo” Co., but the battalion needs his services elsewhere, where he is likely to finish out his tour in Iraq.

“I love being around the Marines and going out to the field here whether in Fallujah, Hit, or (Ramadi),” said Uribe. “It’s awesome. As Wing personnel you don’t always get the full gist of what its like to be a Marine on the ground. I have yet to know of anyone that has come back from a FAC tour that has not said it was one of the most rewarding tours they have ever done. Some go to their FAC tour reluctantly, but they all come back saying they would do it again in a heartbeat. You just gain an appreciation for a side of the Marine Corps that you would not otherwise experience.”

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