IE SHIMA, Japan — Service members operating heavy equipment grade mounds of gravel and dirt, flattening and leveling the landing zone. Other sweat-soaked service members place large planks into place with a thud.
The feverish scene, filled with moving equipment and materials, was all part of a well-planned landing zone construction project.
Marines and sailors with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 constructed four landing pads Aug. 28 at Ie Shima training facility, located off the northwest coast of Okinawa, for rotary-wing aircraft training use.
The landing pads help broaden the training opportunities for units using the facility by providing increased access for helicopters and Ospreys, according to Master Sgt. Juan C. Manco, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of expeditionary airfields, MWSS-172, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“This is exactly what we do (on deployments) anywhere we go,” said Manco. “We did this in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve had the opportunity to do this for both the Army and the Air Force.”
The location and size of Ie Shima training facility allows for a wide spectrum of aviation combat element training evolutions, according to Manco. The increased access helps the Marines and sailors of III MEF realize these capabilities.
Building the landing pads was originally intended as a core-competency skill training for members of MWSS-172.
The construction became a full-blown operation and an end goal in itself by the time work began due to the long-term importance of maintaining serviceable landing areas at the facility, according to Staff Sgt. James C. Atakoglu, the operations chief with the unit. The importance stems from the need for training areas to prepare for possible humanitarian or contingency operations that could develop within the region.
When completed, the area will have the capability to accommodate large-scale training, including division-sized landing operations, according to Atakoglu.
Each pad must be extensively prepared to support large-scale operations without suffering damage from the throughput of Marines, equipment and vehicles, or damage from long-term exposure to the elements, according to Cpl. David J. Fredenberg, a crew leader with MWSS-172.
“To get the landing pads safe, we have to compact the area and ensure it’s perfectly level,” said Fredenberg. “We also have to make sure it’s at the correct gradient. If it is not flat, the pads will break or there will be standing water. If the gradient isn’t right, water won’t drain (which can damage the landing pads.)”
The landing areas are completed when the top layer of the pad surface is successfully laid on top of the prepared surface, creating a safe and durable landing zone.
Whether the construction is a training evolution or an operation, the service members have a valuable opportunity to expand their skills and help III MEF and MCIPAC maintain its training areas, according to Manco.
“Our engineers are getting phenomenal training that they wouldn’t get anywhere else,” said Manco. “It not only provides training for the aircrew, it provides training for our Marines (to help accomplish overall missions in the Asia-Pacific region.)”