By Lance Cpl. Garrett White, Marine Corps Forces Central Command
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION --
In the continuing fight against Islamic State in Iraq and
the Levant, U.S. and coalition military aircraft populate the skies above Iraq
and Syria, running daily strike missions against the terrorist organization.
The pilots flying these dangerous missions are
highly-trained professionals, but the potential for mechanical failure of the
aircraft or being shot down by the enemy, is always present.
An emergency response unit is needed for such a situation,
and the Marines and Sailors of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force –
Crisis Response – Central Command provide this capability.
Marines and Sailors with the SPMAGTF conducted a tactical
recovery of aircraft and personnel training exercise to prepare for this
potential mission, May 29 in Southwest Asia.
“The purpose of these exercises is to develop
synchronization between the various elements of the SPMAGTF,” said Capt. Ryan
Bobber, assistant operations officer with the Air Combat Element.
Marines and Sailors with the SPMAGTF regularly conduct these
exercises to maintain and improve their proficiency in this important aspect of
the unit’s mission. If an aircraft or air crew crash in enemy territory, the
TRAP force needs to be able to react without delay.
First Lt. Antonios Zikos, a platoon commander with India
Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment of the SPMAGTF, explained that the
ability of the unit to execute its own TRAP missions provides the pilots in the
air with peace of mind.
“If a pilot’s equipment fails and forces him to eject from
his aircraft, he is already going to be having a bad day,” Zikos said. “At
least he can be reassured that the Marines are on their way to pick him up out
of harm’s way.”
From the instant downed pilot notification gets passed, Marines
are grabbing their weapons and gear and boarding their MV-22 Ospreys to rescue
the isolated aviator.
One of the most important aspects of a successful TRAP
mission is having the right information, Zikos said. Where the isolated
person(s) are, if they are injured, or if they are near hostile forces are all
important pieces of information that could affect both the execution and the
outcome of a TRAP mission.
While the Marines flying to the downed aircraft are being
given as much information as possible, once on the ground it’s up to them to
execute the recovery mission properly.
“Once we are on the ground, speed is our biggest ally,”
Zikos said. “We have to set up security and locate the isolated person and/or
equipment as fast as possible, without exacerbating any injuries (he) may have
or improperly sanitizing the aircraft of classified equipment.”
Due to the unique nature of a MAGTF – having air, ground and
logistics elements organic to the unit – the SPMAGTF has the capability to
conduct a TRAP mission without outside help.
Ospreys Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron – 165, are the
primary form of transportation for the TRAP team, Zikos explained.
Additionally, the Logistics Combat Element provides enablers – such as combat
engineers or explosive ordinance disposal technicians – should any specialized
skills be required in the destruction or recovery of classified equipment on
the downed aircraft. The SPMAGTF TRAP force also provides its services to other
branches and coalition nations supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
Due to the time-sensitive nature of a TRAP mission, the
Marines constantly train to, and refine, their standing mission so they are
ready to answer the call.
“Repetition and hands-on experience is important,” said
Zikos. “Small details like the low visibility from dirt getting kicked up in
the aircraft’s wash, or the difficulty of moving an injured person in rugged
terrain can get overlooked when you just go over it on a whiteboard.”
The Marines ran through three different scenarios during the
exercise to simulate varying degrees of complexity. In the first scenario, the
pilot’s location was known and he had sustained only minor injuries or was
unharmed. In the second, the pilot’s location was known but he had suffered
injuries and would need to be carried to the aircraft on a litter. The third
and final scenario simulated an unconscious pilot whose whereabouts were
In all three scenarios, the Marines were able to quickly
locate the pilot, assess his physical condition and properly evacuate him.
Training for missions like TRAP is important for everyone
involved, from infantrymen on the ground, to pilots in the sky, to controllers
in the combat operations center.
“Exercises like these
are important for the unit because it helps facilitate a unity of effort,” said
Bobber. “The more everyone involved in these operations works with one another,
the smoother things will go during an actual mission.”