MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Calif. --
Over time, the stress of countless training flights from aircraft has left the expeditionary airfield here in need of repair. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing called upon one of its squadrons to replace the airfield’s parking apron, taxiway and runway with new AM-2 matting.
Marines and sailors from Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd MAW, I Marine Expeditionary Force, have worked since August to restore the airfield to operating standards, improve its design and reduce its rate of required maintenance.
Rotor wash and weather eroded the soil on the shoulders of the airfield. To prevent this from happening again, the squadron extended the parking apron by 36 feet, widened the taxiway and runway from 78 to 96 feet and added culverts for water runoff.
The old taxiway and runway were too close to other structures, explained 1st Lt. Kathleen A. Halle, the project officer in charge for the “Aces.” To reduce risks and remedy the situation, the Marines shifted 600 feet of the airfield to the end of the old runway.
More than 80 Marines from the squadron laid roughly 180,000 square feet of matting of the 200,000 square-foot project area and worked roughly 33,000 man hours from sun up to sun down.
“I have time here to mentor the operators to better their skill set,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Avila, the heavy equipment staff noncommissioned officer in charge with the Aces. “Operating the equipment also gives them a skill set they can take with them. Here, the Marines have accumulated more operating hours than what we did in Iraq on our last deployment.”
The Marines used heavy machinery like sifters, graders, forklifts and excavators to install the new airfield. In some project phases, heavy equipment operators worked rotating 12-hour shifts, enabling the squadron to accomplish tasks 24-hours a day.
The Marines removed the old matting, foundations and rubble. They took nearby soil, sifted and deposited it on the new airfield sections. The Marines deposited 24,000 loose cubic yards of earth to even the terrain and raise the ground as much as 14 feet in some sections. The Marines laid a layer of cement to serve as a foundation to provide extra matting support.
After they finish laying the matting in the upcoming weeks, expeditionary airfield systems technicians will paint proper markings and install lighting to guide aircrew.
“Through all the sweating and hard work I’d say it has strengthened the camaraderie we have,” said Pfc. Jose R. Valdez, an administration clerk with the Aces. “I didn’t know most of the Marines on the project until I got here.”
The United States Forest Service, The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and other federal agencies will use the airfield in support of state emergencies and federal work. The Aces expect to complete the project by the end of October.
“I’ve been doing this type of work for 15 years and I’ve never had a working party as good as this,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brad A. Lenox, the project staff noncommissioned officer in charge. “On this project, 90 percent of our expeditionary airfield Marines haven’t deployed, but they will take their skill set with them when they go overseas.”
The Aces have laid the groundwork for a better airfield, which future trainees will use to better prepare themselves for overseas deployments.