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Getting ground troops needed air support

US Marine Corps News

By Cpl. Aaron Hostutler, Marine Corps Bases Japan

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa -- “Mission 1001 is airborne. They’re going to be at your location in five (minutes). It’s a flight of two AV-8B Harriers, how copy?”

The Marine Corps revolves around its main effort; the Marines on the front lines of the field of battle. Every Marine, regardless of their role in the Corps, focuses on supporting those Marines at the tip of the spear. During his deployments to combat, Gunnery Sgt. Angel Rodriguez’s mission was no different. His focus was ensuring that when those Marines got pinned down, and things weren’t going their way, they got the air support they needed.

“The Marine Corps is a force in readiness and the Marine (on the ground) is really what everybody supports. We want to make sure he can complete his mission with the least amount of worry — We want to make sure he gets back to his family.

“Providing him with that aircraft and making sure that (it’s) ready and on the go is my way of knowing I’m completing that mission and I’m making sure he’s able to complete his,” said Rodriguez, the Weapons Tactics Training Program chief for Marine Air Support Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

Rodriguez was a corporal during his first tour to Iraq which was during the initial push into Iraq, to include Fallujah and Baghdad, a time Rodriguez says he will not soon forget.

The marines sustained casualties, said Rodriguez.

“The enemy was trying to surround and ambush them, but we were able to get them air support in time to push back the enemy,” he added.

It was up to Rodriguez and his team to receive air support requests from the Marines on the ground and relay them to the flight line. What made his job different is that it was done from a C-130 Hercules flying overhead.

“If ground units can’t reach ground support, we are their platform.” Rodriguez said.

Col. Dennis Crall, the MACG-18 commanding officer, served with Rodriguez during the initial push into Iraq.

“During (Operation Iraqi Freedom), the (Direct Air Support Center -Airborne) was a mission-critical enabler for the (Marine Air-Ground Task Force). Most notably, the DASC-A was instrumental in the control of low flying helicopters, especially those providing medical evacuation missions. The DASC-A was genuinely responsible for saving many lives as this capability significantly reduced MEDEVAC response time,” he said.

From a small space in a KC-130 Hercules aircraft, Rodriguez and his team controlled aircraft ranging from FA-18 Hornets to CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters to complete missions including air support, medical evacuations and resupplies.

The DASC-A received a joint tactical air request from the ground unit detailing the exact situation and what air support was required. For Rodriguez’s team, they had a maximum of seven minutes from the time the request was received until the requested aircraft was airborne.

“Seven minutes on the battlefield is a lifetime,” Rodriguez said. “You keep that in mind and always think of who you are supporting. It lets you know what you do, your training for.”

During his first tour in Iraq, Rodriguez participated in 33 combat flight missions. He was in 40 his second tour and 31 his last tour. Combined, he flew in more than 1,000 combat flight hours.

“People ask me why I volunteer to go back,” Rodriguez said. “I tell them to imagine being a shoe sales man and never selling a shoe. It’s like being a Marine and never going to war.”

For his actions during those tours Rodriguez was awarded the Naval Aviation Observer wings making him the first Marine in his military occupational specialty to ever be awarded the wings.

Rodriguez takes pride in being part of what he calls an “airborne 911.”

“A civilian is going to call the police and expect to get some help. It’s the same as Marines on front line. He calls us and is going to get the help he needs.”

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