Marines to hold hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance train­ing ex­er­cise Friday

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMES GIL­BERT @YSJAMESGILBERT

In Nepal, they helped earth­quake vic­tims. In Pak­istan, they as­sisted refugees dur­ing mas­sive flood­ing. They were also there to help vic­tims of Hur­ri­cane Sandy. U.S. Marines ac­tu­ally con­duct more hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance op­er­a­tions than any other type of mis­sion, and that is what they will be learn­ing dur­ing Friday’s ex­er­cise at Ki­wa­nis Park in Yuma.

The train­ing ex­er­cise, which is part of a seven-week course, is be­ing con­ducted as part the latest Weapons and Tac­tics In­struc­tor (WTI) Course, which is taught twice a year, once in the Fall and once in the Spring, by Marine Avi­a­tion Weapons and Tac­tics Squadron One (MAWTS-1).

While WTI is known for pre­par­ing Marines and pi­lots for full com­bat op­er­a­tions, Col. James Wel­lons, com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of Marine Air Weapons and Tac­tics Squadron-1 (MAWTS-1), said Friday’s ex­er­cise is more on the low end of com­bat op­er­a­tions - hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and disas­ter re­sponse mis­sions.

“Not the type of sit­u­a­tion that

in­volves com­bat op­er­a­tions, but a sit­u­a­tion where we as Marines might re­spond to some sort of a con­tin­gency,” Col. Wel­lons said dur­ing a press conference at the squadron’s head­quar­ters. “It is im­por­tant for our sailors and Marines to learn these skills be­fore they de­ploy.”

Col. Wel­lons also spoke about the im­por­tance of WTI, say­ing that the Marine Corps is ex­tremely grate­ful to the city of Yuma be­cause it is the only place they are able to con­duct this type of train­ing, which is con­sis­tent with mis­sions per­formed in sup­port of de­ployed forces.

“What it re­ally al­lows us to do is go in to a nor­mal city, one like we would typ­i­cally de­ploy to as Marines, and con­duct the type of train­ing that is go­ing to be the most re­al­is­tic — which will pre­pare us best for the real world,” Col. Wel­lons said.

Col. Wel­lons then turned to the press conference over to Ma­jor An­drew Bax­ter, MAWTS-1 ex­er­cise co­or­di­na­tor, to ex­plain the details of the train­ing and the types of air­craft and ve­hi­cles to be in­volved.

Maj. Bax­ter said, in all, 30 air­craft will be used in the ex­er­cise, only five of which, how­ever, will be in Yuma. Those air­craft will con­sist of two CH-53E he­li­copters, two UH-1Y he­li­copters and one UH-1Y that will pro­vide air co­or­di­na­tion.

The first air­craft will launch from Marine Corps Air Sta­tion Yuma around 4 p.m. and will land at Ki­wa­nis Park a short time later. Then be­tween 5 and 10 p.m. there will be sev­eral waves of he­li­copters, fly­ing in groups of two to four air­craft, land­ing and tak­ing off from the park.

Other land­ing sites will in­clude Trin­ity Chris­tian School, Crane Mid­dle School, Cen­ten­nial Mid­dle School and Yuma Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

On the ground, par­tic­i­pants will in­clude the Air­borne Se­cu­rity Force, Disas­ter Re­sponse Team from USAID’s Of­fice of U.S. For­eign Disas­ter As­sis­tance, Med­i­cal Civil Ac­tion Pro­gram per­son­nel and mul­ti­ple role play­ers.

In ad­di­tion, co­or­di­na­tors will be us­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion Loud­speaker Sys­tem, which is an au­dio sys­tem de­signed for the bat­tle­field and of­ten used to dis­perse crowds.

Friday’s ex­er­cise is ac­tu­ally a two-part mis­sion that also in­cludes a non-combatant evac­u­a­tion (NEO) that hap­pens si­mul­ta­ne­ously in Twen­ty­nine Palms.

The pur­pose of the hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance ex­er­cise be­ing held in Yuma, Maj. Bax­ter said, is to teach the par­tic­i­pat­ing Marine stu­dents to de­velop a plan to in­sert se­cu­rity forces and med­i­cal per­son­nel, de­liver sup­plies and dis­trib­ute food, pro­vide on­site med­i­cal care, and call in ad­di­tional Marines for re­in­force­ments and ex­trac­tion.

As for the non-combatant evac­u­a­tion ex­er­cise go­ing on in Twen­ty­nine Palms, it is pre­par­ing the Marines who are par­tic­i­pat­ing for real-world in­ci­dents which re­quire a quick re­ac­tion force to ex­tract per­son­nel from hos­tile sit­u­a­tions.

Among the many safety mea­sures be­ing taken dur­ing the ex­er­cise will be a strict ad­her­ence to all Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion reg­u­la­tions.

Air­craft will be fly­ing at min­i­mum al­ti­tudes of 500 feet above ground level over the city ex­cept dur­ing take­offs and land­ings, ac­cord­ing to Maj. Bax­ter, and will use a “de­con­flic­tion” ra­dio chan­nel to re­duce the risk of col­li­sion within air traffic con­trol airspace.

They will also take en­vi­ron­men­tal pre­cau­tions, in­clud­ing the use of drip pans placed be­neath fork­lifts at Ki­wa­nis Park and lim­it­ing move­ment for turf preser­va­tion.

Mil­i­tary air­craft res­cue and fire­fight­ing units will be on site as well as Yuma and mil­i­tary po­lice. The site com­man­der will en­sure the site is clean prior to de­par­ture.

No ord­nance will be car­ried on any air­craft or per­son­nel. Role play­ers will be in civil­ian clothes and wear­ing re­flec­tive belts.

No recre­ational or pub­lic events are sched­uled at the sites dur­ing the ex­er­cise. And the ex­er­cise will not in­ter­fere with ac­tual emer­gen­cies at YRMC.

Spec­ta­tors are en­cour­aged at all lo­ca­tions. How­ever, they are asked to fol­low the in­struc­tions and/ or di­rec­tions of lo­cal author­i­ties and ex­er­cise per­son­nel for their own safety.

While spec­ta­tors are en­cour­age to watch the ex­er­cise from any of the land­ing sites, Maj. Bax­ter said the Ki­wa­nis Park site will have he­li­copters land­ing ev­ery 15 to 20 min­utes, com­pared to the other sites, where it could be up to 40 min­utes in be­tween land­ings.

PHOTO BY JAMES GIL­BERT/YUMA SUN

COL. JAMES WEL­LONS, COM­MAND­ING OF­FI­CER OF MARINE AIR WEAPONS and Tac­tics Squadron-1 (MAWTS-1), talks about a hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance train­ing ex­er­cise that is be­ing held Friday at Ki­wa­nis Park in Yuma and sev­eral other lo­ca­tions within the city of Yuma, as part of its latest Weapons and Tac­tics In­struc­tor (WTI) Course.

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