07.08.2016 -- U.S. Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, arrived at the Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji, Japan, to participate in exercise Eagle Wrath 2016 on July 8, 2016.
The annual exercise focuses on providing aviation-ground support to an assigned aviation combat element while reinforcing skills that Marines learned throughout their military occupational specialty schooling and Marine Combat Training.
“During this exercise we are focusing on air base ground defense while also being tasked to defend the air base,” said U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alexandra Buckley, communications officer with MWSS-171. “No matter what military occupational specialty the Marines have, we are coming out here to train, shoot weapons and defend an air base.”
Known as ‘America’s Squadron,’ MWSS-171 is receiving assistance throughout the exercise from Combat Logistics Company 36 from MCAS Iwakuni, the Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion and Marine Air Traffic Control Mobile Team from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and HSC-12 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
“We attached a helicopter squadron from NAF Atsugi so we can practice close air support,” said Buckley. “We also have a Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion and Marine Air Traffic Control Mobile Team coming out to support us with their anti-air and air traffic control capabilities.”
The squadron plans to complete their unit annual training requirements throughout three stages, which focuses on air base ground defense and Marine Corps common skills that Marines are unable to train for locally.
During the first stage, called the ‘personal and crew served weapon’ stage, Marines practice the employment of M4A1 Carbines, M16A4 service rifles, M203 grenade launchers, AT-4 rocket launchers, M2 .50-caliber heavy-machine guns, M240 bravo light-machine guns, M249 squad automatic weapons, M67 hand grenades and MK19 grenade launchers. The Marines will implement some of these weapons while conducting table three rifle qualifications, a fire team employment exercise, squad patrolling practice, and machine gun employment and familiarization training.
“We have individual weapons ranges where Marines will shoot machine guns and throw hand grenades,” said Capt. Eric Morishige, air field operations company commander with MWSS-171. “The companies will also conduct their own training such as firefighting at Yokota Air Force Base, installing expeditionary airfield gear or practicing air base ground defense measures. And finally we will assemble a small forward operating base where we exercise everything we would do for a small air field, which includes MH-60S Seahawks from the Navy.”
Following the first stage Marines then start the ‘company training’ stage where company commanders have the opportunity to train their personnel and prepare for the final culminating event.
“The culminating event will include a mock air base where air field operation Marines will make a landing zone and create a refueling point while it is MWSS-171’s job to defend it,” said Buckley. “Throughout four days we will dig defensive and machine gun positions, conduct convoys, patrols and air base ground defense.”
To wrap up exercise Eagle Wrath 2016, ‘America’s squadron’ will conquer Mount Fuji before packing up gear and washing down equipment.
“This is one of the only areas we have to go out as a squadron and practice shooting machine guns, AT-4’s, rifles, and digging into the defense,” said Buckley. “We all trained in this during Marine Combat Training but it might be years before a Marine is asked to pick up a rifle and defend an air base. If Marine Aircraft Group 12 picks up and moves somewhere they don’t attach an infantry unit, it’s all through MWSS-171. We are the ones that will be tasked to do our jobs as well as defend our base.”
MWSS-171 conducts this exercise once a year in order to train all the Marines within the squadron, enhance their technical skills, field experience and military occupational specialty capability.
“By the end of this exercise, I want my Marines to be able to go into theater, know what they’re doing, accomplish their mission and win the fight,” said Morishige. “This exercise will let us know where we are as a squadron and what we will need to improve on during future exercises.”