MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Over mountains, rocky terrain, and oversized hills, three aircraft fly across the desert landscape. They bank and circle as they approach their destination. Suddenly, one of the aircraft drops into a steep dive. The A-10 Thunderbolt II fires its main weapon toward the ground and the thunderous roar of its 30 mm cannon rages across the valley.
This sortie was part of Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 2-16. The Marines of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment and the A-10 maintainers staged at March Air Reserve Base, California, allowed for the successful sortie mission.
After completing the mission, Capt. Ryan Rutter, a pilot with the 354th Fighter Squadron, flies 90 miles back to March Air Reserve Base, California, lands the jet and climbs out of the cockpit.
“We are conducting a joint training exercise with the Marines at Twentynine Palms,” said Rutter. “Our main job as A-10 pilots is to provide air-to-ground support. As the Marines are on the ground, we are overhead providing the fire and support that they need. The nature of the exercise helps drive integration."
Capt. Matthew Barrett, who is also an A-10 pilot with the 354th FS, says, “ITX is a unique opportunity for both the Marine Corps and Air Force to gain valuable experience working together.”
“Getting to work with live artillery, tanks, mortars, Cobras and Harriers that are shooting real weapons is pretty rare in the rest of the U.S.; this is one of the only places you can do it,” said Barrett. “It’s a pretty awesome opportunity for us to train.”
He believes it’s a solid stepping-stone for working together and learning how to support the Marines in accomplishing their mission.
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An important element in conducting the ITX is communication, not only between the Marines and Air Force but also between the pilots and the maintainers who support them.
“We know that the A-10 jets are supporting fire for the Twentynine Palms Marines," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Blackstone, a crew chief assigned to 355th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS).
“I think it’s great, I think it shows what we can do; that we are able to bring the fight to the enemy and get the mission accomplished,” he said. “We've worked with all the branches, Army, Navy, Marines and everybody loves the A-10 because they know it's out there to support them.”
Blackstone believes that because of the A-10’s specialized role, it benefits greatly from efficient interoperability between forces.
"The A-10 is strictly air-to-ground," he said. "The pilot and the people on the ground have to talk because every second counts. We have to be on the same page the entire time. The more people that we're able to train with, helps us be more effective in everything that we're doing.”
"We do our best to relay to our airmen who they're supporting and why they're supporting," said Chief Master Sgt. Francis Emmerling, superintendent of the 355th AMXS.
He says, with the current environment of the modern day military, joint training is crucial.
"Anywhere we go these days, we're going to be in some type of joint environment," he said. "We're there with the Army, we're there with the Navy, and with other Air Force members as well."
Emmerling stresses the importance of knowing how to work together, so that American forces may enter the theater of battle with full effectiveness.
“The big takeaway for me is the amount of planning and integration required for a successful exercise,” said Rutter. “There's a lot of pieces, whether it's multiple air assets, different platforms, multiple artillery positions or integrated fires. Then you've got the ground forces moving in a very dynamic manner. This is the chance for me to really see all that, observe it on the ground and realize all the integration needed to make this exercise happen.”