05.12.2016 -- Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 simulated aircraft salvage and recovery operations during exercise Thunder Horse 16.2 at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Haramura Maneuver Area in Hiroshima, Japan, May 11, 2016.
The exercise focuses on reinforcing skills that Marines learned during Marine Combat Training and throughout their military occupational specialty schooling in order to maintain situational readiness.
“The aircraft salvage and recovery was conducted to show that our unit is capable of performing these types of operations,” said 1st Lt. Frederick Holwerda, current operations officer with MWSS-171. “These operations could be conducted anytime an aircraft makes an unexpected landing and cannot make it back to its maintenance area on its own.”
Motor transportation operators, combat engineers, heavy equipment operators, and aircraft rescue and firefighters worked together to recover the simulated downed aircraft.
The opportunity to train in this environment helps Marines within different squadrons enhance their technical skills, field experience and military occupational specialty capabilities.
“We had to learn to overcome obstacles when working in the mud and conducting our jobs fluently while wearing gas masks,” said Pfc. Dalton Tennyson, a motor transportation operator with MWSS-171.
The Marines received a brief about the situation, conducted a convoy to the crash site, posted security, searched and assessed the area, located missing debris from the aircraft, lifted the aircraft, set it down on the back of a 7-ton medium tactical vehicle replacement and disguised the aircraft before returning back to friendly lines through a tactical convoy.
“We had the expeditionary fire rescue Marines out there, and they were the first on scene,” said Holwerda. “They conducted extrication operations where they cut into the aircraft to assess the situation, extract any victims on-board and take out any sensitive equipment from the aircraft.”
The Marines conducted the recovery operations once in the morning and again in the afternoon. During the second recovery, Marines had to overcome difficulties such as working in gas masks, having access to only one side of the aircraft and driving vehicles through tougher terrain.
“Confidence in the Marines was through the roof the second time we conducted this training,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Barnes, assistant chief of operations with MWSS-171. “The team building and camaraderie we hoped for during this exercise happened. Seeing the gained knowledge and confidence from the Marines gratified me.”
Holwerda said this is the first time MWSS-171 has trained in aircraft salvage and recovery at this magnitude.
“This is extremely important because if an aircraft has a mishap for some reason in Japan, we are trained and ready to execute the recovery of an aircraft,” said Holwerda. “We have the capabilities and the knowledge within the squadron who know how aircraft salvage and recovery works. That allows us to support the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and give the Marine Corps a few more valuable assets.”
Barnes said the exercise helped him recognize his capabilities, limitations, strengths and weaknesses as a Marine, which will help him become a better leader.
“I appreciate the struggles the Marines encountered,” said Barnes. “Being able to push myself and my Marines through until the end increased our confidence, and we become a better team.”