Marines to hold humanitarian assistance training exercise Friday
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.
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.