Marines and sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, conducted a situational training exercise Wednesday evening in Wayne County.
Capt. Matthew Pinson, an augment air officer for the Expeditionary Operations Training Group, said the situational training prepares the MEU for ongoing operations and pending deployment later this year. Training in areas that are completely different than training facilities they’d use back at Camp Lejeune enhances the training mission, he said.
The majority of the 2,200-member MEU remained aboard ships well off the Georgia coast as part of an aviation-combat element consisting of two MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft assaulted the Jesup-Wayne County Airport just south of Jesup.
Upon landing, small groups of Marines in full combat gear departed each aircraft in separate directions to set up security perimeters at both ends of the airfield. Other Marines then simulated setting up a refueling point for more aircraft soon to arrive from offshore.
“An AH-1 (Super Cobra) helicopter (gunship) and two UH-1 Huey (utility) helicopters will come in later this evening,” Pinson said. “These H-1 helicopters will be supporting a simulated raid on another site after stopping here one at a time for (simulated) refueling.”
Pinson said the helicopters leave the ship 10-12 miles offshore and take a direct flight to the designated landing zone, just as they might do in a real-world mission.
“(This exercise) simulates leaving the ship in a real-time situation to come in and set up a refuel point for operations going on onshore,” he said. “(After the operation), we’re able to return back without any further support.
”The Marine Corps is obviously amphibious in nature. The significance of this exercise is to demonstrate the ability to operate from a sea-based environment, come ashore, then execute operations.”
After the Ospreys landed, one of the pilots, Capt. Doyle Van Denende, said they were setting up what he referred to as “rapid ground refueling” for a “forward arming and refueling point.” The other aircraft would receive fuel directly from his and the other Osprey, he said.
“The Osprey is configured with additional tanks strapped to the back of the aircraft, as well as the aircraft’s internal fuel system that can give gas as well,” Van Denende said. “The Osprey is essentially a long-range, heavy-lift platform, so we can carry some extra weight.
“When they come in, the attack aircraft will take extra gas from us because they have longer in-station time with missions that push them further inland than we are now ... This evening, we’ll be supporting a training mission that’s going to include inserting and extracting troops. “
He said the Osprey can carry up to 24 passengers, has a maximum range of about 700 miles and can fly up to 220 knots, or about 253 mph, according to militaryfactory.com. Van Denende added that the extra range and speed are considerably greater than other support helicopters. About a dozen Ospreys are assigned to an MEU with a primary mission of assault support, he said.
Few civilians gathered at the Wayne County Airport, though some drivers passing by the airport slowed down on Highway 301 and saw the military aircraft and Marines on the airfield. A small group of Marines dressed in civilian clothes from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay also were on hand to watch the exercise.
Master Sgt. Jonathan Cress, a public-affairs noncommissioned officer for the MEU, said the other training site was the old Wayne County prison near Odum, which closed in October 2008. He said being able to train in Wayne County was a great opportunity.
“We’re not used to training in areas like this,” Cress said. “When we come to an area like this, the realism of the training assists our Marines and sailors who are in a pre-deployment program for environments throughout the world.
“Folks like Mr. Mitch Sutton here at the Jesup-Wayne County Airport and SutAir graciously allow us to come in a couple times a year. These relationships are very important to us. I can’t say enough about being able to come into an area and be welcomed by the community.”