At Eagle Warrior, Marines practice defending bases from terrorists
CAMP FUJI, Japan — Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 carved out a helicopter pad, established a perimeter and chased an aggressor force along ranges near Mount Fuji for more than a week in an exercise measuring its capabilities for ground defense of air bases.
It was part of Eagle Warrior, an annual event that brings more than 260 Marines here for a month of intense training in Mount Fuji’s shadow. The squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
“We can’t do this in Iwakuni,” said Lt. Col. Yori Escalante, the squadron’s commander. “You don’t get the same simulation at the air station that you would in the field. Being able to come up here and do this sort of training is vital.”
The Iwakuni squadron arrived Aug. 15, making the long journey from southern Honshu by convoy. Marines rehearsed basic battle skills and defensive drills before engaging in a week of live-fire and maneuver training.
Since Sept. 6, “we’ve been out here, settling in and defending the air base,” Escalante said. “We’ve run screening missions, foot patrols and set up 100 percent perimeter security.”
Small “skirmishes” broke out throughout the week as Marines defended the air base and pursued the “enemy,” a group that squadron leaders designated as the insurgent forces.
Maj. Ian Cherry, the squadron’s operations officer, said the scenarios were patterned somewhat after the guerrilla tactics used by terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Monday, a Fuji-based explosive ordnance disposal unit simulated a “daisy chain” of roadside bombs, he added, even “taking out” a vehicle.
Under those conditions Tuesday, the Iwakuni squadron set up a forward arming and refueling point and practiced moving personnel with an Army Black Hawk crew from the 78th Aviation Battalion out of Camp Zama.
Staff Sgt. Timothy Killebrew, the squadron’s expeditionary airfield chief, had one day to roll out a functional landing pad.
“All Marines need to get experience with this,” Killebrew said. “It’s not something we do a lot of back home, but it could be required of [a Marine Wing Support Squadron] in a hostile environment. It was a little difficult putting on the pad, but rewarding once we had it down.”
Lance Cpl. Jamie DeGrazia, who works in motor transport, was among those getting their first ride on a Black Hawk on Tuesday. She said the Fuji experience has boosted the unit’s skill level significantly.
“It’s very good for the Marines to be in a field environment with a chance to do all the different training,” she said.
On separate occasions, the squadron had to pack up its gear and return to Fuji as typhoons Mawar and Nabi blew into the area.
They weren’t expected back until Thursday.
“It’s the usual,” DeGrazia said. “Everyone wants a shower. But with these conditions, that’s when everybody bonds. We’re all in the same situation. You can’t complain. Everyone feels the same way.”