TINIAN, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands --
Approximately 1,300 service members and personnel from U.S. Armed Forces units began Exercise Forager Fury III at Guam and Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, Sept. 24, 2014. Forager Fury is a Marine Corps-led exercise involving a full spectrum of fixed wing and rotary aircraft operations.
The exercise has a heavy emphasis on tactical aviation and aviation ground support to further develop expeditionary combat capabilities in the Marianas Island Range Complex.
“Our mindset must go back to the focus, purpose and basic understanding that is required of unit level training,” said Col. Hunter H. Hobson, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
Part of the original plan was to build an austere landing zone for a KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft on Echo Runway at Tinian, according Capt. Kevin M. Wheeler, the actions officer for FF III and the aviation ground support detachment officer in charge with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, MAG-12.
“Just like in real life, plans change,” said Wheeler. “The runway repairs were too much to handle within our budget. So, at this point, we had to change it over to [helicopter] operations.”
Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25, Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Pacific, is the primary helicopter squadron using the 7,000 by 500 feet runway cleared by MWSS-171’s heavy equipment operators.
One of the main missions of MWSS-171, apart from building expeditionary runways, is to protect Marines before, during and after the building process.
“[Marine Wing Support squadrons] are assigned mission essential tasks, one of which is airbase ground defense,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Walter, fuels section team leader and ABGD instructor with the squadron. “Part of our overall mission as an MWSS is to protect the airfields we build, maintain and establish. So we have to kick off certain levels of security that we must conduct at all times while we are operating on an airfield, due to the fact it’s a controlled area.”
Since Tinian is a territory of the U.S., the Marines are assisting the local community in addition to conducting training exercises, according to Wheeler.
“We want to show the Tinians that United States Marines are just like them except we wear a uniform,” said Wheeler. “We are here to work with them and make this a better place for everybody. We are able to put more money into their economy, and we’ve done everything we can to encourage Marines to get out and see the sights here.
“This is a beautiful island and we want to leave it better than when we came to it,” said Wheeler.
One of the ways the Marines are helping the community is by improving roads and other projects around the island, according to Wheeler.
“Tinian has basically become MAG-12’s back yard,” said Wheeler. “We are here almost every year doing some sort of training and area improvement. The U.S. Marine Corps is appreciative to the Tinians for welcoming us here.”
Forager Fury III is scheduled to continue through the duration of the month and will conclude Oct. 6.