Maj. James Vallario, an AV-8B Harrier pilot with Marine Aircraft Group 13, right, and Maj. John Grunke, an AV-8B Harrier pilot with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1, left, train March 30 in their aircraft during the spring Weapons and Tactics Instructors Course hosted by MAWTS-1 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. (Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System via AP)
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YUMA, Ariz. — Known simply by the Marines who have attended it over the years as WTI, which stands for Weapons and Tactics Instructor course, it is also the only training of its kind, providing pilots, weapon system operators, ground combat and combat support service personnel a world-class opportunity to hone their battlefield knowledge and expertise.
Held twice a year and taught by Marine Corps Air Station Yuma’s Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics (MAWTS) 1, its primary purpose, according to the squadron’s commanding officer Col. Brad Gering, is to train weapons and tactics instructors, who will then return to their squadrons and pass on what they learned.
“What we do here is train the trainer,” Gering said. “We develop them as tacticians and instructors, and we develop them as planners and integrators of everything that Marine aviation is able to do for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and joint forces.”
Gering said only the top 10 percent of Marines, those who are the best in their military specialties, ever get to attend the WTI training, which roughly equates to at least one Marine from every Marine aviation unit.
“It’s literally the pinnacle qualification. It is an individual who is very experienced and has already achieved a lot in their profession before coming here,” Gering said. “They have a lot of advanced qualifications and designations that are part of their career progression.”
WTI is not just open to the Marine Corps. Gering explained that other branches of the military, as well as friendly foreign nations, send troops and pilots to attend the course. The current session of WTI is being attended by 231 students from all aspects of aviation and will include every type of aircraft used by the Marine Corps.
It also involves more than 200 instructors, 91 aircraft and more than 4,000 personnel, including a small number of troops from Britain, Australia and Canada.
Taught over seven weeks, Gering said, the course consists of part classroom instruction combined with a rigorous flight curriculum and is intended to build communication between pilots and troops on the ground, so when they are performing a variety of real-world missions, such as transporting troops, providing close-air support, evacuating non-combatants and performing humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery efforts, they will work together smoothly and efficiently.
During the training, students are taught about a variety of weapons and how they are used, tactics and how best to utilize them together with other Marine aviation units, as well as command and control systems.
Gering explained that the first three weeks of classroom instruction is taught from an overall perspective about the capabilities of Marine Corps aviation down to focusing on the particular aircraft the Marine student flies.
The opposite approach is taken when the flight stages of the course are taught, he said. During this phase, the students learn about the capabilities of their aircraft before going on to fly with similar types of aircraft and ending with all of the units participating in a weeklong final exercise, during which they plan and perform a combined-arms operation within the city limits of Yuma and Brawley, Calif.
“This gives the students a really unique opportunity to fly in an urban environment, which you can’t really duplicate with that level of fidelity in range space, because you are actually landing in an actual community,” Gering said of the final exercise.
Gering said that the WTI curriculum is constantly being updated to include any newly developed aircraft, updated weapons and technology or methodology. Although he didn’t know how soon it could be happening, Gering said officials are currently planning how to include the F-35B Lightning II into future WTI courses.
As far as the future of MAWTS 1 and WTI, Gering said there will always be a need for advanced training, and he doesn’t see the squadron role in providing that training diminishing anytime soon.
“I’m very confident in MAWTS 1 and I think the next 10 years are going to look a lot like the last 35 years. We were basically designed and built on the concept of co-locating and having an exercise in the name of standardization in the name of tactics, techniques and procedure development. And I see our focus in the next 10 years being the same thing.
“The mission itself is very enduring. It has been successful. It is very much weaved and integrated into the aviation training and readiness programs for squadrons, so I see our role remaining as it is today.”
MAWTS 1 has been conducting two WTI courses a year since its creation in 1978.