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As part of the annual training exercise Scorpion Fire, Lance Cpl. Clinton Lehner, a crew chief with Marine Light Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 369 “Gunfighters,” looks down range during close-air support maneuvers at the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, Calif., Jan. 29. Marines with both tiltrotor and fixed-wing squadrons participate in this annual exercise, which provides a realistic environment for ground units in need of close air support. (Official Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brendan King)

Photo by Cpl. Brendan King

Gunfighters live up to name supporting Scorpion Fire

11 Feb 2015 | Sgt. Raquel Barraza 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Pilots and crew chiefs from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 369 “Gunfighters” took part in the annual exercise Scorpion Fire aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Jan. 26 – Feb. 6.

Marines with both tiltrotor and fixed-wing squadrons within the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing participate in the exercise which provides a realistic environment for ground units in need of close air support or CAS.

“It is imperative to have aircrew trained as Forward Air Controllers (Airborne) to allow them to control [engaging targets] in an operational area where ground forces may be unable to do so due to visibility issues or enemy fire,” said Capt. David Femea, external support coordinator with HMLA-369.

The person who controls and authorizes aircraft fire during a CAS mission is known as the Joint Terminal Attack Controller. Forward Air Controllers (Airborne) can locate, mark and fire on targets while in flight when the JTAC deems necessary.

The ranges surrounding MCAS Yuma make it the ideal place to conduct the training for squadrons throughout 3rd MAW.

“We have pilots gaining the initial qualification, gaining proficiency, or just getting a good exposure to the CAS environment,” said Sgt. Matthew Piciocco, UH-1Y Huey crew chief with HMLA-369. “This is the environment we operate in during a time of war, with multiple friendly ground forces and air forces working together.”

Making sure air and ground units work hand in hand to coordinate these exercises keeps the Marines ready for when the training is needed on the battlefield.

“When an aircraft checks into an objective area where ground fire controllers are unable to control fires due to task saturation, low situational awareness, enemy fire, or combat loses, a FAC(A) qualified crew will be able to assess the friendly and enemy situation and develop a plan to control aviation and ground fire in support of ground forces,” said Femea.

Marines throughout the squadron know that the training like Scorpion Fire is all in support of a greater mission.

“It feels good to go to the desert for a couple weeks knowing you are helping the guys on the ground,” said Piciocco.

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing