NORCO, Calif. --
Marines call it Rhino Snot. It's a thick, white goop resembling Elmer's school glue. But this isn't your children's glue. This is a high tech, military-grade polymer that earned its name on the gritty battlefield of Afghanistan.
And the nine members of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 who brought it to town weren't using it for arts and crafts either. They camped out at the Navy base in Norco, Calif., using it as a two-day staging ground for an important July 31 mission.
At the break of dawn, Marines left Norco to spray a metric ton of this sticky glop on a nearby Cleveland National Forest hilltop, aiming to trap dust on an isolated landing site used for aircrew training.
Hours later, an MV-22B Osprey from Miramar, Calif., landed on the treated, dirt site to put their work to the test. Despite pounding wind generated by the Osprey's dual rotors, the Rhino Snot held everything beneath its hardened shell, producing a remote landing zone fit for military training.
So within 24 hours of arriving in Horsetown USA, the Marines had accomplished their dust-trapping mission. It may not seem like much, but it can be critical for military pilots operating in extreme environments.
"We need to keep the surface hard so that when aircraft land on top, there's no corrosion or visibility loss from dust flying up," said Marine Cpl. David B. Spier of Baltimore, Md., who helps operate the squadron's truck-mounted hydroseeder, a high-pressure water cannon used to disperse the Rhino Snot.
"You're up high, you're riding on the back of a 7-ton [truck]," said Spier. "But you gotta be careful when you're spraying certain things."
This stuff is notorious for ruining uniforms, he said, so Marines wear coveralls when working with Rhino Snot, a nickname for Envirotac II, an environmentally safe blend of polymers that takes its name from Camp Rhino, the first U.S. forward operating base established in Afghanistan. Those troops named the goop, and the name just, well, stuck.
"It's said you can't give yourself your own nickname. You have to earn it," said Justin Vermillion, the vice president of Environmental Products & Applications, Inc., which makes Envirotac. "Well, we earned that nickname and have a lot of pride in it. I feel there is no better testament in our industry than to proudly say our military chooses to use our product."
These Marines had to do the job right - their boss was doing an inspection later that afternoon.
Col. Patrick A. Gramuglia, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 16, arrived aboard the Osprey and put the landing site to the test. Following the successful landing, he joined in a ceremonial Snot spray along the last stretch of dirt, receiving a special, white hardhat to commemorate the occasion from the crew. Gramuglia extended his own appreciation by presenting members with his signature command coin, a military tradition reserved for exceptional performance.
"This squadron here is able to do almost as much as the Navy Seabees," Gramuglia said. "The range of capabilities within our aircraft wing is absolutely unique to the Marine aviation community, and this support squadron adds to that immensely."
This particular landing zone is advantageous because of its elevation and proximity to several military airfields, Gramuglia said. The officer in charge of the team operating from Norco cited that proximity to the warfare center also affords his team a convenient location to base their future operations, as the location serves as a geographic hub for surrounding military installations in Southern California.
"The Marine Corps has been working hand-in-hand with the Forest Service to get these landing zones re-approved," said Gramuglia. "If not for the sites here, we'd have to go all the way up to Bridgeport to be able to get this type of elevation."
The U.S. Forest Service's special use office cleared this landing zone and ten others in Cleveland National Forest for use by the Marine Corps for training purposes. As part of the deal, the Forest Service and other authorities will be able to use the newly prepared clearings to station manpower and equipment to combat wildfires and illegal activity.
"We're used to working with the military," said Monteil Tremain, a fire captain for the U.S. Forest Service who chaperoned the operation. "We've actually been searching ourselves for something like this - stuff. Envirotac presents us with a solution we didn't know we had."
No matter what it's called, Rhino Snot worked like it should - another tool the Marines can use to help ensure the safety and effectiveness of aircrew training.
Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 - an aviation ground support unit based out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. - is part of Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which it supports regularly.
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division, headquartered in Norco, supports Marine Corps operations around the world - from air training ranges to aviation calibration support for aircraft like Gramuglia's Osprey that landed in Cleveland National Forest. The command has supported more than 100 Osprey training events this fiscal year.
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