Photo Information

Marines with 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion, 1st Marine Division, drive their amphibious assault vehicles away from a resupply point where they picked up equipment dropped off by CH-53E's during Exercise Steel Knight, Dec. 9.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Manuel F. Guerrero

Steel Knight: Taking 3rd MAW back to basics

19 Dec 2008 | Sgt. Zachary Dyer

Combined arms – a method of combat that seeks to integrate the different aspects of a military to compliment the strengths of each facet to support their operations. The Marine Corps’ ability to use its air and ground assets together is what makes it one of the world’s premier fighting forces.

With the heightened operational tempo of the Global War on Terrorism, Marines have had little chance to hone their combined arms skills outside a deployed atmosphere.

Leathernecks from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and other West Coast units had a chance to change that with Exercise Steel Knight at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Dec. 3-15.

“Steel Knight is the Marine Corps getting back to basics,” said Sgt. Maj. Guy Frazier, the Marine Aircraft Group 11 sergeant major. “We need to get back to our normal way of fighting. Which is the ground being able to call in aviators, being able to call in mortars, being able to call in artillery. We’re actually dropping bombs. We’re working with, talking with, communicating with the Marines on the ground.”

Steel Knight brought together several fixed wing, rotary wing, and various support squadrons as well as several different battalions from 1st Marine Division, to form the Aviation Combat Element and the Ground Combat Element, respectively. Not only were there F/A-18 “Hornets,” UH-1N “Hueys” and CH-53E “Super Stallions,” but Light Armored Vehicles, Amphibious Assault Vehicles and M1A1 Abrams tanks were included in the exercise as well.

During the exercise, the ACE and GCE were able to hone their combined arms skills by conducting live-fire exercises that called for coordination between air and ground assets. 

Marines practiced calling in close air support and indirect fire, went through aerial and ground refueling and completed several offensive and defensive scenarios, according to Maj. Thomas Kerley, the MAG-11 operations officer.

“We’re looking to coordinate troops on the ground with indirect fires and aviation assets,” explained Kerley. “That’s what we’ve done for years and years, but we’ve just gotten away from it.”

For the last few years exercises Mojave Viper and Desert Talon have prepared ground and air units separately to deploy specifically in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Steel Knight brings both sides together again to train for any future contingencies, according to Kerley.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve done a combined arms exercise, and anybody below the rank of major or staff sergeant has never participated in such a thing,” explained Kerley. “You can imagine the amount of institutional knowledge we’re getting out here.”

In the end, Wing Marines walked away from Steel Knight with a better understanding of how to work with, and support, their brothers on the ground.

“I think there were a lot of lessons learned coming out here,” said Maj. Tim Fitzpatrick, the ACE action officer for Steel Knight. “I think it will help the Wing in general over the long term by doing these exercises.”