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Two AH-1Z Viper pilots with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 169 participate in a simulation of exercise Sea Horse Wind aboard Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., Dec. 1. Exercise Sea Horse Wind was a long-range raid conducted by more than 600 Marines with 1st Marine Division and 29 aircraft with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jake M.T. McClung/Released)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Jake McClung

Steel Knight 2017: Marines execute largest long-range raid exercise in 14 years

13 Dec 2016 | Lance Cpl. Jake M.T. McClung 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

More than 600 Marines with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and 1st Marine Division conducted exercise Sea Horse Wind, in both southern California and Arizona, Dec. 4 to 9.

Sea Horse Wind was a long-range raid in which 29 aircraft transported ground troops from Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, to a simulated combat zone in Yuma, Arizona, and provided close air support to ground units. The raid was a crucial component to exercise Steel Knight, a division-level exercise which allows Marines and Sailors to exercise the full range of their capabilities.

Steel Knight is an annual exercise lead by the 1st Marine Division that spans Pacific Southwest region of the United States. It gives members the opportunity to focus on fires, maneuvers, warfare tactics, and command and control capabilities. This training evolution allows Marines and Sailors to experience a range of environments and while fighting against a thinking opposing force, which enables 1st Marine Division to remain the Marine Corps' largest, most capable and most lethal combat force in readiness.

Sea Horse Wind gave 3rd MAW Marines the opportunity to train with ground troops and allowed ground troops the chance to participate in a large-scale mission similar to the ones executed in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Capt. Andrew Lundskow, an AH-1Z Viper pilot with HMLA-169.

This is the first time Marines have conducted exercise Sea Horse Wind in 14 years, integrating air, ground, command and logistics command elements.

Planning and executing a mission of this scale took months of preparation, from its initial planning stages to returning home safely, said Lt. Col. Jackson Doan, commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (3/5), and the assault task force commander.

To prepare, leaders of air and ground forces as well as several pilots participated in a simulation of Sea Horse Wind aboard MCAS Camp Pendleton, Dec. 1.

Reconnaissance Marines inserted into the training area Dec. 4. On Dec. 5, infantry Marines and personnel prepared gear and equipment to complete the long-range raid and on Dec. 6,air and ground forces conducted the raid.

Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 169, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 164, VMM-364, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 352, VMGR-152 and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 466 acted as close air support and transported ground Marines into the objective area.

“For the individual Marine, this exercise is important because it provided them the opportunity to perform a long-range raid exercise, which we don’t get the chance to do that often,” said Lt. Col. Rafael Candelario, acting regimental commander of 3/5 and mission commander of Sea Horse Wind.

Marines on the ground engaged multiple simulated enemy outposts while calling for air support from nearby aircraft.

“Having that opportunity to actually work with the [aircraft], work with the crew and then learn his craft of being an assault Marine and going to the objective via aviation," said Candelario. "It’s an opportunity for us to refine our standard operating procedures – to make sure that we are face-to-face with the guys who’ll be flying us in combat.”

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