MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The air and ground assets honing their combined arms skills during Exercise Steel Knight were like spokes of a wheel revolving around the Direct Air Support Center manned by Leathernecks from Marine Air Support Squadron 3.
During the two-week exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., the Marines of MASS-3 coordinated the air support, indirect fire and other fires required by the Ground Combat Element.
The DASC’s job is to process immediate air requests, medical evacuations, and close air support missions and deconflict the airspace the aircraft are flying through, according to Cpl. James Barbour, a DASC crew chief with MASS-3
“Picture the word MAGTF,” added Gunnery Sgt. Robert Sousa, the DASC staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “Now put a hyphen in between the ‘A’ and the ‘G’. That’s us, we connect the air and the ground.”
During the exercise, the Marines of MASS-3 were responsible for controlling the air space over most of the MCAGCC, an area of approximately 935 square miles.
A handful of MASS-3 Marines are responsible for communicating with warriors on the ground and in the air, and coordinating aerial support with indirect fire, ensuring that no two aircraft, or artillery shells, occupy the same air space as one another, according to Sgt. Adele Grullonknupp, the DASC chief for MASS-3.
During Steel Knight, the DASC coordinated approximately 10 to 20 sorties each day. Flights were sorted by location and elevation and plotted on a large wall map in the center.
The DASC functions a lot like an air traffic control tower, telling aircraft when and where to go,only instead of tracking aircraft on radar, MASS-3 Marines use radios and maps, explained Barbour.
Outside the DASC, another group of MASS-3 Marines maintains the radios and communications equipment.
“Basically, we support the DASC with all their radio nets,” said Sgt. Benjamin Manchee, an aviation communication subsystems technician with MASS-3. “Wherever the DASC goes, we’re their radio support for talking to everybody.”
The communications Marines controlled approximately 13 radio networks for the exercise. That is about half of what the DASC would need if in a deployed environment, according to Manchee.
The exercise also provided a great opportunity for the squadron to train for the next deployment. Each work-up exercise builds on the skills of the team that eventually becomes a forward detachment, according to Manchee.
Though the Marines of MASS-3 have about a year before their next deployment, their success at Steel Knight has shown them they are ready.