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VMA-311's training pays off in combat

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2005121154549
Story by Pfc. Dustin M. Rawls

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. (Jan. 20, 2005) -- The main goal of most military training exercises is to improve combat effectiveness and efficiency in specific areas. Quite often, the skills learned during training are combat-tested in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan shortly after the exercises are complete.

Marine Attack Squadron-311 is currently testing their pre-deployment training during its deployment to Al Asad, Iraq. The pre-deployment training included the Joint Tactical Air Controller Course in Fallon, Nev., and Exercise Desert Talon, said Maj. Robert Schroder, operations officer, VMA-311.

"Some of the concepts and ideas introduced to the squadron during the JTAC Course in Fallon, Nev., were some of the concepts put to use on the battlefield here in Iraq," said Col. Clyde "Wolfman" Woltman, VMA-311 commanding officer. "For pilots from other squadrons, these were new techniques. For the Tomcat pilots, the Operation Iraqi Freedom procedures were nothing new because of the exposure and training received during Desert Talon in Yuma and the JTAC Course support exercise."

Woltman said the unit focused on many different aspects of training during the two exercises.

"We focused on conventional and special operations, close air support, weapons employment, forward base operations and precision targeting with the Litening II targeting pod for urban operations," he said. "Additionally, we prepared our Marines for the expeditionary nature of operations and the 24-hour battle rhythm that we expected in Iraq."

It didn't take long for the effectiveness of VMA-311's training to be tested and noticed in Iraq.

"During our first week of combat operations here, one of our pilots remarked after a night mission when he employed the AV-8B's 25mm gun in Al Rhamad, (that) 'It was just like the training we did in Desert Talon.' In my mind, this speaks volumes for the effectiveness of the training provided by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1," said Woltman.
Many of the enlisted support Marines with VMA-311 feel they benefited from the pre-deployment training as well.

"That was not only beneficial for the pilots but for the maintainers as well," said Sgt. Francisco Martinez, VMA-311 powerline mechanic. "It provided valuable knowledge on how the aircraft would react in an unfamiliar environment. The operational tempo set at Fallon was a prelude to how we would conduct operations in Iraq."

"In preparation for deployment, I think this squadron has always been ready," said Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Ewing, VMA-311 ordnance technician. "Everything done in Yuma is constant preparation for deployment through everyday training in each (military occupational specialty)."

The Marines added that although the training was sufficient, they definitely notice the differences between working on station and working in the combat zone.

"The main difference between my job here and in Yuma is situational awareness," said Lance Cpl. Christopher Aaron, VMA-311 avionics technician. "The pace is a lot higher, and we have to pay special attention to what's going on around us at all times."

Martinez also stressed that pre-deployment training is excellent, but having good small unit leaders is always key to being successful and staying alive in the combat zone.

"All training is beneficial, but the problems we come across are the growing pains experienced in the first few weeks of the deployment. We could train for every situation imaginable, but in a combat environment, things don't always go as planned," he said.
"This is why it is important for small unit leaders to have good situational awareness and supervise their Marines. This way, when you do run into an obstacle, you can overcome it quickly and safely."


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