Airmen, Marines 'TRAPped' in desert



The thunderous sound of an MV-22 Osprey echoes over an open field as it lands. Emerging from its lowered door is the I Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif., who advance on the New Mexican desert to fulfill their objective: find the downed aircrew and bring them home safely.

During the simulated Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel scenario, the IMEF’s capabilities were tested by Airmen from the 563d Operations Support Squadron assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., in a joint exercise as part of their Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force certification training, Feb. 22, 2017, at the Playas Training and Research Center, N.M.

“We evaluated the [IMEF’s] ability to conduct a TRAP mission prior to their deployment,” said U.S. Marines Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Benson, Playas Training and Research Center, N.M., SP MAGTF exercise site lead. “The best way to examine their recovery capabilities was to paint the most realistic simulated scenario to develop targets for both Marine ground forces and the Air Force pilots providing close air support.

“The 563d OSS brought a lot of knowledge of the capabilities of the aircraft supporting the mission and allowed the scenario to replicate the most authentic events to help drive the training to benefit all players in the evolution,” Benson added. 

During the scenario, an aircraft went down from a mechanical failure and its crew members were isolated in a potentially dangerous area. Friendly local populace discovered the aircrew and helped safeguard them from enemy forces, protecting them inside a mock Middle Eastern market place. After the aircrew radioed for the IMEF reinforcements, the Marines scouted the area, recovering the survivors.

Amid the IMEF’s pursuit, they fended off Airmen from the 563d OSS, a geographically-separated unit assigned to the 23d Wing located at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., as they role played opposition forces to better test the Marines TRAP skills.

“Supplying people and equipment to play in these exercises [directly invests] into the readiness of [personnel] going downrange,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeremiah Burleson, 563d OSS weapons and tactics flight commander. “We want to make the best and the most realistic scenarios so that the training environment is as close to the real thing as possible.

 “Even though the real thing may feel different, the more accurate we can be now, the less of a shock it is for these guys when they go downrange,” Burleson added.

Because of the insurmountable ground force threats, the Marines relied on Air Force air support to help neutralize the mock insurgents, eventually completing their mission. As the MV-22 descended to victory, it was the savviness of the Air Force’s ability to mesh with the Marines mission readiness practices that was the most impressionable aspect in Burleson’s evaluations, who role played as the exercises Air Force liaison mission planner.

“It’s important to understand another services strengths and be on the same accord in joint operations,” said Burleson. “Training environments like these accomplishes this by allowing the face-to-face interactions to ask questions and learn lessons to better execute downrange. Each service may have different terminologies and intricacies in their processes. Training together secures common ground with understanding.

Benson credited the training, saying this joint understanding will serve the IMEF well after the completion of the SP MAGTF certification training. The training is the culmination of the unit’s crisis response operations before deploying to the United States Central Command, which consists of 20 countries in Northeast Africa and Southwest Asia.

“The deployment [the IMEF] is going on is a joint operation,” said Benson. “Both teams bring a lot of muscle to the fight, and when combined, it's an impressive capability our country has.”