AL ASAD, Iraq -- A squad quietly patrols the streets of an Iraqi village, exchanging hand signals and muted commands, until … tink, tink, “Grenade!” BOOM! The grenade explosion followed by a barrage of small-arms fire forces the squad to take cover and identify the source. Pinned down by gunfire, the squad leader radios the location of the threat to their aerial support. Light attack helicopters are on the scene within minutes to suppress the enemy.
When Coalition Forces patrol the Al Anbar Province of Iraq, ambushes are dangerous, but aerial support can lessen the loss of life. Pairing the right aircraft with the mission is the responsibility of the Combat Operations Center, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).
“When ground forces are in need of aviation assets, we ensure those assets are readily available to assist those troops in completing their mission,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kevin R. Young, aviation operations chief, MAG-16. “We assign light attack helicopters, assault support helicopters and fixed-wing assets to provide aviation support for troops on the ground.”
According to Young, the operations center exercises command and control over the subordinate squadrons in MAG-16 to ensure those squadrons are capable and ready to provide support.
“We disseminate the missions and tasking from higher headquarters to the appropriate squadrons to effectively carry out the combat missions,” said the Wichita Falls, Texas, native. “The ground combat element requests aviation assets through I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), to support their scheme of maneuver. I MEF tasks us, through 3rd MAW, and we assign assets and develop concepts of operations to support their requests.”
Although the operations center is responsible for direct aerial support to ground forces, they also handle requests for movements of passengers and cargo throughout Iraq.
“We provide the best aviation war-fighting assets to 3rd MAW and I MEF,” said Lt. Col. Paul E. Damphousse, MAG-16 operations officer. “We support ground forces and their operations through the execution of joint tactical air requests and assault support requests.”
“What we do administratively could be considered as similar to how an airline would function,” added Young. “We assign assets to transport passengers and cargo to different forward operating bases throughout the area. An ASR is like a ticket, in which it is reviewed, approved and assigned to our subordinate squadrons for flights.”
With the various aviation assets available for support, the COC is manned by Marines with the proper expertise for every asset available to support every type of mission.
“Within the MAG, we have every type of Marine Corps aircraft represented, along with helicopters from two Army aviation units,” said Damphousse, a CH-53E helicopter pilot by trade. “Accordingly, we have pilots and Naval Flight Officers working in the COC as subject matter experts from each aviation community.”
According to Cpl. James A. Lowe, aviation operations specialist, MAG-16, it’s never a dull day for the Marines working in the COC to provide aerial support to various missions throughout the operational area.
“I enjoy my job, because there is always something new,” said Lowe, a Louisville, Ky., native. “Two days are never alike. When an ASR is submitted, we figure out the best way to get it accomplished.”
Knowing how critical their job is to the missions of the ground units and the squadrons supporting them, the Marines in the operations center are dedicated to their mission.
“Every Marine in operations, both officer and enlisted, put in 14- to 16-hour days, seven days a week,” said Damphousse, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native. “The many hours these Marines are working: giving 100 percent to this fight, even ten months into this deployment, is outstanding.”
As the War on Terrorism continues, the MAG-16 Combat Operations Center will also continue their unrelenting efforts to coordinate the proper aerial support for combat missions throughout the Al Anbar Province.