USAF Marines conduct rapid airfield seizure exercise
When the cargo doors open, the swoosh of wind is all that’s heard in the cabin of the MC-130J Commando II as pararescuemen from two nations await their turn to parachute into the clear waters below.

By: Senior Airman Peter Reft - 8/1/2016

  • U.S. Air Force pararescuemen from the 31st Rescue Squadron and Japan Air Self-Defense Force prepare for Exercise Keen Sword 17 Nov. 10, 2016, off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)
  • Japan Air Self-Defense Force pararescuemen prepare to jump out of an MC-130J Commando II during Exercise Keen Sword 17 Nov. 10, 2016, off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)
  • U.S. Air Force Maj. Edward Porter, 31st Rescue Squadron chief of standards and evaluations, jumps out of an MC-130J Commando II during Exercise Keen Sword 17 Nov. 10, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

​What began as another calm and quiet summer day on a small island in the Pacific instantly turned into a vortex of dust and a thunderous bedlam of Osprey engines. Marine Corps riflemen stormed the area, neutralized multiple hostiles, and captured a landing strip for incoming cargo planes hauling additional troops and Humvee command vehicles.

Marines and Airmen completed the ground operation on schedule, in a plan designed for the same amount of time many people take for a lunch break.

“This exercise allows us to take a key piece of terrain, build up combat power there, then project follow-on forces into other places in the area,” said Marine Corps Capt. Dennis Dunbar, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment assault force commander. “We own that airfield in less than an hour.”

The Marine Corps 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (2/2), the Marine Air Group 36, and the Air Force 353rd Special Operations Group coordinated a long-range airfield seizure exercise to test combat effectiveness of joint operations.

“The primary objective is integration and interoperability with special operations forces and conventional forces as well as establishing a joint training relationship between three geographically separated forces,” said Air Force Maj. John Huntsman, 17th Special Operations Squadron assistant director of operations.

The 2/2 brought the muscle and forward air control, the MAG-36 brought insertion aircraft and gunship support, while the 353rd SOG brought fuel and heavy transport.

“This is by far the most robust airfield seizure exercise we have done for this battalion,” said Marine Corps Capt. David Faville, Fox Company 2/2 forward air controller.

The 2/2 initiated the operation by deploying scout snipers to survey the airfield. Then the platoon split into two large groups. One group went with two 353rd SOG MC-130 cargo planes, and the other half went with four MAG-36 MV-22 Ospreys.

While flying toward the target, an MC-130J Commando II air refueled all four Ospreys, which then inserted the assault force under simulated cover fire by a UH-1Y Venom gunship.

Fire teams made their way to the airfield, engaged simulated threats, secured the landing strip, then called in SOG transports to insert remaining assault forces and two Humvees to setup a forward combat operations center.

The exercise marked the first time the 2/2, MAG-36 and 353rd SOG have ever conducted a long-range airfield seizure together.

“The training enables us to assess our battalion capability for command and control for a long-range raid,” said Faville.

Huntsman stated while the SOG has refueled MV-22’s often, they have never done a long-range airfield seizure with them.

“It was definitely unique being able to do this with the 2/2 with a mixed SOG suite,” said Huntsman. “The highlight was essentially the non-special operations forces assaulters integrating with special operations forces air commandos.”

Even with the combined might of three different organizations, the exercise demonstrated only a portion of their joint operation capability.

“This is definitely a scalable concept, since we can incorporate C-17 Globemasters and KC-135 Stratotankers, enhancing our time on station, as well as increasing the amount of fuel we can deliver to a larger Osprey package,” said Huntsman.

Huntsman expressed how the training paid huge dividends, succeeded on all fronts, and everybody achieved their objectives, enabling the development of joint training relationships and trust between units.

“It’s all worth knowing in case we ever need to bring together these different forces in a contested environment,” said Huntsman. “Interoperability between all operational forces is huge in the Pacific theater.”

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