Photo Information

A Marine with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) gives a high five to a child at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 26. U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with an orderly drawdown of designated personnel in Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz).

Photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz

‘Jack of all trades’: Aces stack the deck in Afghanistan

8 Nov 2021 | 1st Lt. Wesley Medeiros 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – (November 8, 2021) Earlier this year, the Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 373 “Aces” returned from a six-month deployment to the Middle East in support of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC).

In April 2021, MWSS-373 deployed to Kuwait where they initiated aviation ground support operations throughout the region. For more than four months, the Marines of MWSS-373 rebuilt airfield infrastructure in Syria and Iraq, refueled MV-22Bs and KC-130Js in Saudi Arabia, provided communication and supply capabilities to the air command element, and supported ground logistics movement and sustainment of the air, ground and logistics command elements. 

“We are the jack of all trades,” said Maj. Sophie Funderburk, SPMAGTF-CR-CC Marine Wing Support Detachment commander. “More than 20 military occupational specialties compose our detachment, which means that you get over 20 different capabilities to employ within a variety of mission sets across the MAGTF.”

In mid-August, MWSS-373 responded to growing civil unrest in Kabul, Afghanistan by augmenting with Marines who rapidly responded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of noncombatant evacuation operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Noncombatant evacuation operations serve as the primary method employed by the U.S. State Department of safely evacuating American citizens and host country nationals from crisis situations in foreign countries. Prior to their arrival in Afghanistan, MWSS-373 underwent process-focused training as part of the evacuation control center (ECC), whose mission is to restore order in an area of instability resulting from hostility or humanitarian disaster. Despite an incredible amount of situational uncertainty, a shortage of mission-essential equipment, and the growing population of evacuees overflowing at the airport, MWSS-373 Marines were prepared to operate outside of their job description and original mission in the Middle East in order to accomplish their new mission in Kabul. 

“Our Marines are problem solvers who find ways to do things in less than ideal circumstances, with less than adequately staffed resources,” said Capt. Jacob Schiltz, SPMAGTF-CR-CC Marine Wing Support Detachment operations officer. “You may not have everything you need, but you figure out a way to get the job done.”

Estimates of the population overrunning the airport was already in excess of 10,000 by the time MWSS-373 arrived, a number that was increasing by the hour. An inherent lack of accountability within the masses further exacerbated overcrowding, making any sort of vetting process nearly impossible for a growing population of desperate and scared evacuees. As part of the ECC, Marines quickly learned that in order to assist evacuees and accomplish their mission, the human factor of the situation needed to be addressed. 

MWSS-373 took initial action by implementing crowd control tactics to quell riotous and unruly behavior, setting the stage for construction of canalizing terrain amidst the holding sites. Serpentine structures were built using surrounding broken-down buses and military-grade palates, allowing Marines to more effectively communicate with and supervise evacuees. Female Marines acted as the first line of defense for women and children seeking transportation through Kabul, conducting searches for weapons and hazardous materials, and tending to children abandoned at the holding site. Follow-on efforts included hotwiring abandoned vehicles and construction equipment in order to provide critical logistical support at the airport, namely transporting large obstacles and digging sanitation trenches for the thousands of men, women, and children already clustered into the toxic environment. MWSS-373 Marines further utilized a variety of acquired vehicles to transport portables restrooms and hand-washing stations across heavily contested terrain to build sanitation sites for evacuees to utilize prior to transportation out of Afghanistan.

“The problem solving abilities of the young Marines and our Sailors won the day,” said Funderburk. “The only reason our mission in Afghanistan was a success was because of our Marines.”

MWSS-373’s mission is to provide all essential aviation ground requirements to a designated fixed-wing component of a Marine aviation combat element or to supplement air base facilities and services provided by a Marine Corps air station, including motor vehicle support, mobile electric power, heavy equipment, tactical aviation refueling, internal airfield communications, expeditionary airfield services, organic nuclear, biological, and chemical defense, and air base commandant functions. 

SPMAGTF-CR-CC serves as an expeditionary crisis-response force capable of supporting the evolving requirements of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command and U.S. Central Command. Acting as a forward-deployed, flexible, shore-based MAGTF capable of conducting crisis response, contingency operations and theater security cooperation, SPMAGTF-CR-CC possesses the ability to respond to instability while building strong regional partnerships.

3rd MAW continues to “Fix, Fly and Fight” as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing, and remains combat-ready, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.

For questions regarding this release, please contact the 3rd MAW Communication Strategy and Operations Office at