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Air wing Marines hone skills in wake of Bastion attack

Use lessons learned from Bastion attack

Mar. 16, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Bastion attacks inspire new training regimen
Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 fortify the perimeter at an airfield at Twentynine Palms during the unit's Integrated Training Exercise. The Marines learned how to effectively defend their air base by improving patrol and watch procedures. (Cpl. D.J. Wu/Marine Corps)
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Members of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 keep watch from a tower along an airfield at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Cpl. D.J. Wu/Marine Corps)
Maj. Gen. David H. Berger, Combat Center Commanding General looks over operations at the Combat Center Expeditionary Air Field during Marine Wing Support Squadron 374's Integrated Training Exercise, Wednesday. MWSS-374 practiced their Air Base Ground Defense doctrines to improve procedures for Marine Aircraft Groups. (Cpl. D. J. Wu / U.S. Marines)

Aviation squadron leaders are enlisting the Marine Corps’ law enforcement battalions to help their Marines better prepare to defend an air base following the deadly 2012 attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, which left two Marines dead and six aircraft destroyed.

Lt. Col. Mike Livingston, commanding officer of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, based at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in California, asked members of 1st Law Enforcement Battalion to develop a training regimen for his Marines, said 1st Lt. Jose Avitia, a military police officer with 1st LEB. The squadron was about to take part in an Integrated Training Exercise at Twentynine Palms.

“The request came down for a package of law enforcement-specific skills to teach that they could use when setting up a defense around the airfield,” Avitia said.

Livingston was particularly interested in training for the members of his squadron who aren’t typically tasked with defending a base, Avitia said. The participants included supply Marines, motor-T drivers and mechanics, among others, he said.

Eight members of the LEB spent about a month, from mid-January to mid-February, training the group during the ITX, Avitia said.

Since then, other squadron leaders have expressed interest in making airfield defense a part of their ITX training package.

Marine Corps Times sought interviews with Livingston and members of the squadron about their experiences, but the requests were declined.

Bringing expertise to bear

Setting up defenses around airfields has been one of 1st LEB’s main tasks in recent years, which is why they were sought out, Avitia said.

Livingston “felt like we could teach his guys and prepare them for any operation, whether in the rear, in training or out on the front lines,” Avitia said.

The training package they developed included:

Anti-terrorism force protection measures. Avitia and his Marines showed the squadron how to fortify defensive positions, and improve patrol and watch procedures. They also taught the Marines various hand signals they could use to communicate with each other if someone approached the wire while they were manning a post.

Escalation of force. Squadron personnel refined their ability to determine the most effective measures to use if a situation with a possible adversary escalated. That can start with something as simple as signaling an oncoming vehicle to stop, and continue all the way up to firing on an intruder if deadly force is required.

Basic infantry skills. The squadron also got a refresher in skills they likely learned straight out of boot camp. That included gun positions, setting up lines of fire, primary directional fire and weapons handling. They also did some patrolling and went through different formations.

Manning checkpoints. The LEB Marines went through basic skills for manning checkpoints. That included checking personnel and vehicles.

The LEB Marines also incorporated military working dogs into the training to show how they could be used to enhance security. Marines often find the dogs invaluable at checkpoints, during patrols and even in a face-off with the enemy.

“We had an explosive detection dog, and what that dog can do is smell around the vehicles for any explosives,” Avitia said. “They also can use attack dogs if an attacker becomes so dangerous that other-than-lethal measures are needed to take him down.”

A receptive audience

Avitia served as the officer-in-charge of the LEB Marines conducting the training. With him were three sergeants, a corporal and three privates first class.

“They were very receptive,” he added. “They were excited to work with the dogs for patrols and manning checkpoints, and were very interested in the anti-terrorism force protection measures.”

The eight LEB Marines taught about 120 squadron members on and off during the ITX, including the four days before the squadron was set to man its posts during the training event, Avitia said. They spent those four days teaching and providing feedback on the things they were observing that needed to improve.

“Because they were such a diverse group and also very young to the Marine Corps — this was the first training event many of them were participating in — their improvement was largely in the basics,” Avitia said.

They continued to enhance the training over the next several weeks. By the third walk-through — about two weeks into their training — Avitia said they saw vast improvements in how the Marines were responding to potential threats. The air wing Marines were able to immediately identify and respond to potential adversaries, identify direction of fire and carry out vehicle checks.

Avitia said the LEB will continue developing the standard operating procedures for this training. They aren’t sure how often squadrons will request the training package, he said, but it seems to be gaining traction.

Members of Marine Aircraft Group 41 are slated to attend their ITX in June, and they will be conducting defense of an airfield as part of their training, said 1st Lt. Tyler Hopkins, a Marine Corps Forces Reserve spokesman.

The training addresses several areas that were determined to be shortfalls in the investigation into the attack on Camp Bastion. Towers were left unmanned, and others didn’t have a good vantage point to spot a breach.

Avitia said he hopes the training he and his Marines provide the squadrons will get air wing Marines thinking about skills they don’t practice every day.

“It will help the wing Marines — and also our Marines conducting the training — to be prepared for any kind of operation,” Avitia said. “It will definitely prepare the Marines to respond to many different situations.”

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