Marine Aircraft Groups 13 and 39 Flex Muscles
by U.S. Marine Corps Major Josef Patterson
May 24, 2019
Showcasing a capability to support and integrate aviation combat power, Marine Aircraft Groups (MAG) 13 and 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), launched more than 100 aircraft in a short period from four locations in support of multiple training events throughout Southern California on February 15, 2019.
Representing only a sample of available combat power across 3rd MAW, various squadrons from MAG-13 and MAG-39 flexed their muscles in the skies over SoCal, proving 3rd MAW's capability to "Fix, Fly, and Fight" and, when needed, advance at a moment's notice.
In a vast display of operational readiness, MAG-13 launched 23 attack and fighter attack aircraft including the AV-8B Harrier and F-35B Lightning II; Marine Attack Squadrons (VMA) 311 and 214, along with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122, demonstrated the power of their aircraft, which could be felt across Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma Ariz., Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) Twentynine Palms, Calif., and aboard U.S. Navy ships afloat in the Pacific.
An AV-8B Harrier with Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 311, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), takes off during a training exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) Twentynine Palms, CA on February 15, 2019. Eleven AV-8B Harriers with VMA-311 launched from MCAGCC Twentynine Palms in an epic display of combat power. In a single wave, VMA-311’s Harriers took to the skies over Southern California, highlighting their ability to provide combat power on an enormous scale. Over the course of several hours, more than 100 aircraft from MAG-13 and MAG-39 took to the skies over Southern California, proving 3rd MAW's capability to "Fix, Fly, Fight" and, when needed, advance at a moment's notice. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Julian Elliott-Drouin)
"MAG-13 and our 3rd MAW teammates demonstrated our ability to support flight operations from main base, afloat and in an expeditionary environment,” said Col. William Sauerland, MAG-13’s commanding officer. “While we are proud of the aircraft we flew, we are prouder of the pilots, maintenance departments, and support personnel that professionally fix, fly, and win every day. I'm proud to be a member of this august group of warriors."
Similarly, several squadrons from MAG-39, based at MCAS Camp Pendleton, Calif., entered the final stages of readying three divisions of MV-22B Ospreys and a mix of 70 attack and utility helicopters to support a multitude of training events in the SoCal area. As is the case every day, individuals across the MAG were intensely focused on their tasks while remaining integrated to guarantee all aircraft launched successfully.
"The Marines, Sailors, and civilians of MAG-39 work hard every day to ensure that our aircraft and aircrew are ready to fly and fight in support of I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and our supported combatant commanders' tasking,” said Col. Matthew Mowery, MAG-39’s commanding officer. “Today's event is both a validation of that hard work and a very visual reminder of the combat power that we have been entrusted to employ. Meeting our goals is only possible because of MAG-39's outstanding maintainers and our support teams who expect and consistently achieve mission success."
The combat-credible display of strength by MAG-39 was both overpowering and intimidating, especially considering that 82 aircraft only represent a small portion of the group. In a single wave, MAG-39 launched what equated to enough assault support aircraft that had the potential to support the insertion of hundreds of combat loaded Marines and equipment.
If it is true that there is nothing more deadly than a Marine and his or her rifle, then the lethality implied during this event was nearly immeasurable.
“At the end of the day, had we been in a far off foreign land, we could have transported a reinforced infantry company in one wave of MAG-39 MV-22s and UH-1Ys, while sustaining continuous close air support coverage all day in five different locations with our available AH-1Zs,” said MAG-39’s operations officer, Lt. Col. Robert Bunn. “What our Marines put into the sky today was truly impressive by any measure."
Two AH-1Z’s with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 169, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), move into formation over Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., during a training exercise on February 15, 2019. In a dynamic display of strength, MAG-39, launched more than 82 attack, utility and assault support aircraft. MAG-39 aircrews taxied and launched their aircraft with a precision akin to that displayed during close order drill. Over the course of several hours, more than 100 aircraft from MAG-13 and MAG-39 took to the skies over Southern California, proving 3rd MAW’s capability to “Fix, Fly, Fight” and, when needed advance at a moment’s notice. (U.S. Marine Corps photo Lance Cpl. Levi J. Guerra)
MAG-39 aircrews taxied and launched their aircraft with a precision akin to that displayed during close order drill. Maintainers and ground support crews watched with pride and a strong sense of accomplishment as each of their aircraft fulfilled its role, took to the sky, then disappeared over the horizon.
“This event demonstrates the size and capacity of MAG-39,” Bunn said. “On any given day we have over a hundred aircraft on our line and over 4,000 Marines fixing, flying and coordinating the actions of those aircraft.”
Taking a brief pause, maintainers and ground support crews took note of the epic occasion.
“We take great pride in our ability fix and maintain our machines,” said Sgt. Tyler Schmidt, an airframes collateral duty and quality assurance representative with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 469. “Watching our birds launch and return to base, knowing that they accomplished the mission, feels good and is very satisfying. It is absolutely a team effort, and we all have a part in it.”
Simultaneously happening several hundred miles away, the last sections of MAG-13’s Harriers shook the earth while conducting short take-off and were quickly out of sight. Launching so many attack aircraft in such a short period is a testament to MAG-13’s preparedness and proved that they are indeed ready to “fight tonight.”
As a measure of the combat power represented by so many Harriers, consider that just two of MAG-13’s aircraft can carry a payload more explosive than an artillery battery and is sufficient enough to support an infantry battalion of more than 1,000 Marines for an extended period.
During this exercise, MAG-13 put more than ten times that amount of combat power in the air in less than one hour.
The launch of each aircraft was pre-empted with a purposeful and coordinated effort toward mission success. The Marines of MAG-13, like individual instruments in a symphony, all worked together with determination toward operational excellence and were filled with pride knowing they were successful.
Lt. Col. Jay Hanson, MAG-13’s operations officer stated “The planning and synchronization of efforts on the part of both MAG-13 ground and aircrews speaks volumes to each and every member of the MAG-13 team and was absolutely vital to showcase the power projection abilities of MAG-13 to launch and recover aircraft from austere, maritime and main bases."
Each of the aircraft are force multipliers individually and offer unique stand-alone capabilities to the supported Marine on the ground. The ability to employ more than 100 combat ready aircraft within a short duration proves that 3rd MAW is focused on generating readiness and lethality within each of its four aircraft groups.
Events such as this provide realistic, relevant training necessary for 3rd MAW to “Fix, Fly, and Fight” as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing and ensures the unit remains combat-ready, interoperable, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.
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