MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT -- Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 and Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort from Weapons and Tactics Instructor course Oct. 27.
The WTI course is held twice a year aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, and gives combat familiarity and proficiency to pilots, weapon system officers, combat arms and combat service support personnel.
“The purpose of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course is to ensure we execute air combat safely and accurately,” said Maj. Paul Pfeifer, the executive officer of VMFA-115.
The VMFA-115 “Silver Eagles” and the VMFA(AW)-533 “Hawks” deployed 10 F/A-18 Hornets and 125 maintenance Marines per squadron to ensure the aircraft were ready to fly every day.
“For our Marines, it’s a chance to go out to the field and practice using the equipment we use when deployed,” said Capt. Nathaniel Griggs, a pilot with Marine Aviation Training Systems Site. “Everyone will get an ample opportunity to build proficiency.”
The course was seven weeks long, with about three weeks of live-fire training focusing on integrating aviation and a mobile ground force. Pilots trained extensively in advanced tactical aviation.
“The main focus of the course is to train weapons and tactics instructors,” said Pfeifer. “Our pilots train alongside the ground units to simulate a deployed environment.”
In order to train fixed wing and rotary wing pilots to be instructors, they spend time with classroom instruction as well as flight hours. The ground combat and combat service support troops provide the familiarity of a deployed environment, but also use the opportunity for realistic training.
“WTI is a great course that allows Marine pilots to hone their combat skills with the ground element and emphasize Marine Corps tactics,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Ireton, administration staff non-commissioned officer for VMFA(AW)-533.
In addition to the proficiency and tactics training, participating in WTI will help the Marines work together more efficiently which is essential to mission accomplishment.
“Many of our maintenance support Marines have never deployed,” said Ireton. “Now they have the chance to get out in the field and work with each other just like they would on deployment.”
The whole Marine Air Ground Task Force is involved in the final exercise. Teamwork is especially important in this stage to ensure every element gets the support they need.
“Working on such a large exercise really gives you a perspective on how the Marine Corps operates in the field,” said Lance Cpl. Mathew Whittemore, an electrical technician with VMFA(AW)-533. “Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture without getting out there and experiencing it.”
Maintainers and pilots worked together to complete the training and get the job done. Once back at the air station, the squadrons will take those lessons learned and implement them in their training syllabus to prepare for upcoming deployments.
“Marines are very proficient here, but training together in the field helps build that camaraderie,” said Griggs.