FORT BLISS, TEXAS --
When troops are in a grueling firefight while on patrol, the sound of an approaching attack helicopter can give hope for the Marines and sailors engaging the enemy. Attack helicopters provide troops with an advantage over ground forces when trying to accomplish a mission. It provides them with a better view point of the battlefield and superior fire power unmatched by enemy ground forces.
In preparation for the upcoming Network Integration Exercise, Marines with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division and AH-64 Apaches from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, 1st Armored Division, worked together to complete a close-air support exercise at Dona Anna training facility, Fort Bliss, Texas, April 24-26, 2014.
Squad leaders, platoon commanders, fire support team leaders and joint fire observers from Echo, Fox, and Golf Company directed simulated fire support from Apache helicopters overhead on various targets throughout Dona Anna.
This was the first time many of the Marines have worked with Army aircraft for this purpose, said Sgt. Steven Funkhouser, a joint terminal air controller with 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
Marines performed fire missions during the day and night using different methods at scattered targets ranging throughout the area from 150 to 2,500 meters from the observation post.. Depending on the target, Marine observers chose which type of ammunition to fire notionally, whether Hellfire missiles, 2.75 in. rockets, or the 30mm machine gun.
Each company spent a total of two days on close air support; one day in the classroom training and one day at the observation position applying the new knowledge to different scenarios. After completing training, the squad leaders took back their new knowledge and trained the other Marines in their squad on close air support.
Usually this type of training is only received by JFOs and JTACs during Tactical Air Control Party training exercises at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. But the upcoming NIE exercise will provide opportunities for squad leaders to work with Apaches to engage ground targets.
“It’s the exact same protocols here as it would be in a combat situation, besides the simulated ordnance,” said Funkhouser, a Romney, W.Va. native. “The Marines prepare their target information, check their accuracy, and then get on the radio and direct the helicopter on target. We do this type of training at Lejeune, but there we only work with Hueys, Cobras, F/A 18s, [AV-8B] Harriers, and some [U.S.] Navy jets. Joint training is a good experience to have. Not a lot of Marines get opportunities like this.”
Working with the Apaches is a little different than working with Marine Corps helicopters, said Funkhouser. The Apache helicopters usually work on their own to provide support to Army units maneuvering on the battlefield. For training purposes, the Marines are controlling their movement and directing their fire.
“We’ve done this type of training before, but with Cobras,” said Clermont, Ga. native, Cpl. Clint Mead, a squad leader with Fox Company. “This is our first time working with the Apaches. I never really thought I’d be in a position like this. It’s a great experience. I really enjoyed the training and hope I get to work with [Apaches] during NIE.”