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An AH-1Z Cobra with Marine Aircraft Group taxis down the flight line aboard Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 28, 2016. Col. Michael Borgschulte, commanding officer of MAG-39, developed a Marine Air-Ground Task Force integration effort to develop a closer integration of the ground combat element and aviation combat element.

Photo by Cpl. Alissa Schuning

MAG-39 focuses effort on air, ground integration

12 May 2016 | Cpl. Alissa Schuning The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Since becoming commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 39, Col. Michael Borgschulte made it one of his command priorities to create a stronger relationship between the squadrons of MAG-39 and the ground units within I Marine Expeditionary Force at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

According to Borgschulte, the end state of this effort is to develop a closer integration of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and in particular the ground combat element and aviation combat element.

In the Marine Corps, the Marine Air-Ground Task Force is the principal organization for all missions across the range of military operations. 

The MAGTF allows commanders the ability to maintain a persistent U.S. presence around the world and can be rapidly deployed to execute combat operations or provide humanitarian and disaster relief assistance around the world.

The key to the Marine Corps’ success during combat operations is maintaining a strong MAGTF and the integration between all components is critical.

Borgschulte plans to accomplish the MAGTF integration through four lines of effort: MAGTF unit partnership, an Aviator Immersion Program, MAGTF Integration Exercises and MAGTF Simulation Exercises.

The first line of effort partners aviation squadrons with ground units, particularly ones that are deploying together. Each MAG-39 squadron has recently partnered with, or “adopted,” an infantry battalion to form mutually beneficial ties.

“This [line of effort] is meant to build relationships and create more symbiotic training evolutions,” said Borgschulte. “Rather than injecting notional ground combat elements into our training scenarios, let’s do it for real. It allows the GCE more aviation assets to accomplish their [mission essential tasks] while at the same time allowing the aviation combat element to accomplish their METs, so it’s really a win-win and more realistic training overall.”

This partnership also includes the squadrons painting the unit logo of the ground unit they are partnered with on the aircraft, which increases unit morale for the Marines.

“As squadron CO in Afghanistan, we painted the battalion logo of each unit we were fighting with on the side of our aircraft,” said Borgschulte. “Something seemingly insignificant sends a strong statement to the Marines you are supporting on the deck and helps strengthen that bond.”

The second line of effort is the Aviator Immersion Program, which allows pilots from various squadrons within MAG-39 to attach to a ground unit for a 45 to 60 day period, to gain a greater understanding of company and battalion level tactics. 

Capt. Jason Grimes, an AH-1Z Cobra pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, was the first aviator to integrate with ground units during training at Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, California. 

Grimes joined Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and acted as an additional forward air controller during their Mountain Warfare Training.

“[During the training], I got to work with the ground [Marines] on planning how to utilize the air and ground forces to find and attack the enemy,” said Grimes. “It was a great experience learning how the company and the battalion employ their tactics. This training is going to make me a better attack pilot and a better Marine officer.” 

The program isn’t only for aviators. According to Borgschulte, Marines from ground units are invited to see what the Marines on the flight line do as well.

“The Aviator Immersion Program is a reciprocal invitation,” said Borgschulte. “We’ve had mechanics with 1st [Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion] come to HMLA-267 to see how challenging it is to keep these birds in the air and how similar it is to working on a Light Armored Vehicle, and we sent the aviation mechanics to 1st LAR to see the same vice versa.” 

The third line of effort is MAGTF Integration Exercises, which are medium-scale exercises done quarterly that combines multiple aviation and ground assets.

“This is simply using the synergy of all aviation assets and ground assets and putting them in an integrated exercise developed and led at the grass-roots level,” said Borgschulte. 

Marine Aircraft Group 39 conducted their second medium-scale exercise as part of the integration initiative in the range complex near El Centro, California, April 28.

The exercise consisted of a day into night, live-fire mission with a battalion Tactical Air Control Party team controlling multiple aircraft and a battalion platoon executing a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel. This exercise included nine different MAG-39 squadrons and their partnering units from 1st Marine Division.

According to Borgschulte, the MAGTF Integration Exercises offer both ground and air units the ability to conduct synchronized training evolutions leading to more realistic and effective training environments. 

The fourth line of effort is MAGTF Integration Simulation Exercises, similar to the medium-scale exercises but conducted through aircraft and ground simulators. 

The simulation exercises involve linking separate aircraft simulators from MCB Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, and MCAS Yuma, Arizona, and having GCE Marines man simulator stations while exercising functions of a Fire Support Coordination Center, TACP, and the Marine Air Command and Control System. 

In April, MAG-39 coordinated and executed one of the simulation exercises with seven separate flying simulators executing a high-threat mission integrated with GCE Marines in their combat roles. The aircraft simulators consisted of two AH-1Z Cobras, two UH-1Y Hueys, one AV-8B Harrier and two MV-22B Ospreys. 

During the simulation, they executed close-air support, casualty evacuation, helicopter-borne company assaults and TRAP missions.
The simulation also involved full Marine Air Command and Control architecture established with a Fire Support Coordination Center and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers along with 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion integrated into planning and execution.

According to Borgschulte, the involvement of the GCE during these events provides a more realistic environment and the ability to train for the high-end fight through simulation.

Borgschulte believes that closer MAGTF integration is key to success on the battlefield and through these initiatives MAG-39 will increase their overall combat readiness and effectiveness.

“These efforts force Marines to have a better understanding of the combat element components within the MAGTF and forges enduring cross-MAGTF relationships,” said Borgschulte. “Relationships matter, and when we deploy for contingency operations those relationships can be leveraged, making the MAGTF a more cohesive and capable warfighting force.”

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