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2nd Lt. Crystal Speckmann discusses the details of an eight-hour shift with Sgt. Mario Sanchez April 19 at Camp Fallujah, Iraq. The communications provided by the Marines in the Direct Air Support Center are vital in the coordination of aviation support for ground forces. Sanchez is an air support operations operator and hails from Highland, Calif.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Chad McMeen

MASS-3 links ground to air in Fallujah

29 Apr 2006 | Lance Cpl. Brandon L. Roach

Some would say that to have successful ground operations there needs to be timely and accurate air support, and the Marines inside of the Direct Air Support Center are the ones who make that link happen.

These Marines are with Marine Air Support Squadron 3 and their mission plays a vital role in the success of Coalition Forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The squadron operates under Marine Wing Support Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and has detachments throughout the Al Anbar Province.

According to 2nd Lt. Crystal M. Speckmann, air support control officer, the mission of MASS-3 is to procedurally control aircraft and approve all requests for air support.

The Marines work tirelessly for eight hours or more coordinating medical evacuations, direct air support, air traffic deconflictions, tactical air strikes and many other air missions.

"With my job, I have to know everything that is going on in the air and on the ground," said Sgt. Mario J. Sanchez, air support operations operator, MASS-3. "We have to make sure that (aircraft) don't run into each other's airspace."

Having constant communications with ground forces ensures that a timely response to any incident can be accomplished. 

"We receive requests for air support directly from the ground troops and assign flights to cover them," said Sanchez, a native of Highland, Calif. "We then send these requests to the Tactical Air Command Center so they can get the birds in the air."

Certain calls are handled with extra speed and care, while others that are still important have a little longer processing time.

When calls for MEDEVACS come over one of the many different modes of communication, the controllers hurry to get the information passed to receive clearance for the flight.

"Hearing the urgency in someone's voice you find yourself needing to move fast," said Speckman. "This way the wounded can get the proper medical attention fast.

"Upon arriving here we had a day when flights were being sent back to base due to what a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot called 'a wall of sand,' (referring to the common sandstorms here)." said the Johnson, Neb., native. "We asked him to pick up an urgent MEDEVAC and he went into the storm. I stayed on the radio with him throughout the flight. I don't know the outcome of the wounded person, but I know that pilot possibly saved his life by going into that storm. It's things like that which make this job definitely worth it," said Speckmann.

To make sure that there is no loss of information the controllers in the DASC require solid communications at all times. The squadron has its own section of Marines who ensure that every type of communication is in proper working condition.

"We have several ways to keep in contact with our troops," said Sanchez. "We maintain UHF and VHF radio contact, e-mail and (a secured internet chat room where people can enter information for air support)."

The several mediums of communication keep the ground units in constant contact with the air support at all times. When things get hectic for the ground troops, they know they have someone to rely on.

As well as getting air support for ground units, the squadron is the link for several other types of missions that involve aircraft.

"We also have an air support logistics team," said Speckmann. "They are an extension of the DASC and the work directly with the regimental combat teams to coordinate artillery fire and air traffic."

For most of the people in the DASC, they never get a chance to experience working with operating aircraft and ground units until they are in theater.

"During school and working in the states, we can conduct drills," said Speckmann. "You never get a chance to hone your skills until you are deployed to a combat zone doing it."

Although training while working, the Marines of MASS-3 keep the air and ground safe throughout operations being conducted in Iraq.

We are the hyphen in the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, is the phrase said by all in the squadron.

"We are the direct link from air to ground," said Maj. Geoffrey M. Anthony, detachment officer-in-charge, MASS-3. "We are the only wing unit that works directly with the (infantry units) to make sure they can get their job done."
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing