MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (AFNS) -- Aircrew from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, participated in a Marine Corps exercise Feb. 10-12 here.
The Minot AFB Aircrew flew a B-52H Stratofortress to provide close-air support for ground units as part of the Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 2-15, a Marine Corps sponsored month-long pre-deployment exercise.
"We try to bring as many joint units to the training as possible," said Mark "Dutch" Dietz, the Joint Exercise Developer for the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center's (MCAGCC) Tactical Training Exercise Control Group (TTECG). "It's a unique training opportunity for both the Air Force and the Marines, because it's something they very seldom get to do."
To give the Marines the most accurate wartime training possible, the ITX uses all live-fire and tries to incorporate all the elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force.
"There is very little out there that is simulated," Dutch said. "This is the one place in the Marine Corps where we can do all the training live-fire. They 'deploy' to actual Forward Operating Bases that have been constructed out in the training area, and they live tactically for the bulk of the month."
Not only is it rare for services to combine this type of pre-deployment training, but this particular exercise also included scenarios the Air Force pilots would not typically see stateside.
"This is something the Air Force pilots don't get to do very much," Dutch said. "We call it close-air support, where their flying role will be to directly support ground units that are in contact or maneuvering. It's a very realistic mission that they might do somewhere overseas."
With the ITX accurately depicting a real wartime scenario, Minot AFB’s 69th Bomb Squadron got involved to take full advantage of the training opportunity.
"We're trying to get the best possible training we can get for the 69th Bomb Squadron," said Capt. Bradley Siefert, a 69th Bomb Squadron pilot. "Close-air support is different in that it requires really detailed integration with ground troops, which is why it helps to be down here with the Marines."
While the aircrew flies over, Siefert will be on the ground with the “coyotes,” or Marines who act as ITX directors, evaluators and safety-enforcers. Working alongside the coyotes, Siefert will be able to watch maneuvers and communicate directly with them to ensure the air support is delivered safely.
"We're doing a joint, live-fire exercise with troops very close to weapons exposure," Siefert said. "So we'll be with them in the field, answering any questions they may have in real-time while the airplanes are in the air and the bombs are flying."
Although other Air Force units have previously participated in the ITX, the Marine Corps is working on incorporating more units from other services for future ITX's, and eventually making MCAGCC Twentynine Palms the premiere pre-deployment training base for all branches of the U.S. Military.
"The ITX is just a unique opportunity, and the B-52s are a great example," Dutch said. "If they didn't come to this training, they wouldn't get to fly this direct close-air support for ground units the way they do here. Largely, what makes this base special is what we can do.
"TTECG provides a level of safety and expertise to allow this very complex training," he added. "This opportunity is rare, but it's available here."