CAMP RIPLEY -- For the first time in seven years, a Minnesota Army National Guard Attack Helicopter Battalion participated in a joint-service operation at Camp Ripley on July 15-16.
This unit, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 147th Aviation of St. Paul, supported 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division's Exercise Maximum Force 2001 in a Joint Air Attack Team mission.
Aircraft involved in a JAAT are fast movers or fighter jets, attack helicopters and field artillery. In this operation, the fast movers were two F/A-18 Hornets from the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA-112), Naval Air Station, Fort Worth, Texas. They refueled in Minneapolis both days.
Two Cobras and two OH-58 A+s from the Guard supported the two-hour operation July 15 during the company's monthly drill period. On July 16, one Cobra crew and two OH-58 crews volunteered their time.
Soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, Fort Sill, Okla., fired one of their M-270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems equipped with an Improved Position Determining System in a night mission July 14. This system locks onto satellites and can triangulate the launcher's position within 10 meters. The battalion is an Army Active Duty unit.
The Cobras' mission was close air support and the OH-58s carried Marine forward observers who were calling for artillery fire. Once the forward observers called for fire, the artillery shot two rounds to take out air defense artillery positions and then a white phosphorous (Willy Pete) smoke round. These Willy Pete rounds gave the fighter jets a target for their simulated "bombing" runs on enemy air defense positions. Everything happened in 30-second intervals for the time on target missions.
The Guard will remove the Cobra from its inventory on Sept. 30. The OH-58s will replace the Cobras until the Guard acquires the Apache helicopters.
"It was nice to get a joint operation before the Cobra disappears," said Capt. Taylor Cox, commanding officer of the company. "It was a good opportunity for us."
Cox said his unit had to adapt its tactics because the Marines used their Cobras in a different way than the Army Guard.
One of the two OH-58 A+s from Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 147th Aviation of St. Paul carried Marine Reservists Forward Observers who called for artillery fire during the first joint-service operation for the attack helicopter battalion July 15-16.
This exercise was only part of the huge operation that started June 8 with equipment being loaded on 120 rail cars and 115 semi trucks and trailers en route to the camp. Personnel from 34 training sites throughout the United States were chartered on 10 aircraft. The artillery specific training started July 7 and ended July 21. The operation will not be over until Aug. 18, when all of the units' equipment will be returned to respective sites.
The Marine Reservists and Navy staffers were from First Battalion, 14th Marines, Second Battalion, 14th Marines, Headquarters Battery, 14th Marines, and the Combat Service Support Group-43. Almost 300 active duty Army soldiers from the Second Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, 212th Brigade, from Fort Sill, Okla., IIi Corps Artillery, also supported the exercise with 12 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.
The rail movement into Camp Ripley was the largest in the Marine Corps this year and the second largest in the Department of Defense this year.
Col. Philip Rudder, commanding officer of the 14th Marines, said he chose the 53,000-acre camp because Fort Sill was too hot last summer.
One of the two F/A-18 Hornets from the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA-112), Naval Air Station, Fort Worth, Texas, flew at tree-top level on a mission-ending fly-by over an impact area at Camp Ripley during the 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division's Exercise Maximum Force 2001 at the camp July 15.
Rudder, who took command of the unit in 1999, said his two choices for cooler bases were Fort McCoy, Wis., or Camp Ripley. He had trained at Fort McCoy before and wanted to try something new.
Whatever base he chose, Rudder said it had to offer two capabilities: a place to off-load railroad cars and a range capable of shooting MLRS.
The camp's staff members repaired the second railroad spur, brought in a temporary off-load ramp and built a temporary tractor-trailer off-load ramp for six tractor trailers to be off-loaded at the same time, Rudder said.
"So we brought our Marine style of training up here to Minnesota," he said.
He noted that in a month's time, approximately 2,000 Marines, soldiers and sailors were at the camp.
One of those soldiers, Lt. Col. Eric Ashworth, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, said he wished more units could train at the camp.
"Sill doesn't have the foliage," he said. "Plus the land at Sill is familiar to my soldiers. This camp offers better recons. It's a great place to train."
His battalion, one of the nine MLRS battalions in the IIIrd Armored Corps Artillery of Fort Sill, trained with M-270 MLRS equipped with an Improved Position Determining System. This system locks onto satellites and can triangulate the launcher's position within 10 meters.
In just one day, this unit shot 33 surface to surface training rockets (maximum distance about 15 kilometers) and 12 times on target missions for platoon certifications. By the end of the operation, 72 MLRS rockets would be fired.
Ashworth said the camp's ranges were more than adequate for the firing of the MLRS.
"You've got things here we wish we could have at Fort Sill," he said.
Major Jay Krail, commanding officer of Battery F, 14th Marines, also liked the ranges.
He said the camp offered better gun positions for his battery's M198 155 millimeter howitzers than other camps it has trained at, including Camp LeJeune, N.C., Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Fort Bragg, N.C.
"(The camp) offers better terrain with trees and open positions," he said. "There are a lot of positions to hide batteries."
For Maj. Ronald Legarreta, commanding officer of Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines of El Paso, Texas, the camp's terrain did offer his Marines a challenge.
"We're not used to dealing with treelines, especially treelines in front of the guns where the crews have to equate a minimum elevation to shoot over the treeline," he said.
Battery F from Oklahoma City, Okla., also will be the first in the Marine Corps to test the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. HIMARS, the newest MLRS, is on mounted on a wheeled chassis instead of tracks.
But the 14th Marines Regiment, the largest regiment in the Marine Corps, is no stranger to being noteworthy in the Marine Corps. It owns a third of the Corps artillery, has five battalions located in 19 sites in 13 states, 90 howitzers, five Q-46 Alpha counter-battery Radars and state of the art digital fire control equipment.
"We're as fully fielded as our active duty counterparts are," Rudder said.
He said this exercise's purpose was to rehearse the mission as the Marine Corps Force Artillery being called to active duty to support a war.
There were five phases in the operation: mobilization, deployment, employment, redeployment and demobilization. Mobilization simulated reserve units being called to active duty, deployment simulated the reservists and their equipment being moved and shipped to the theater of war, employment simulated the employment of weapon systems in the field, redeployment simulated the return of the reservists and their equipment back to the United States and demobilization simulated the return of the reservists and their equipment back to their homes and duty stations.
A Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation, a rigorous evaluation of live fire and tactical movement, also was conducted during the training. Each year this evaluation is held but for different battalions.
Rudder added that this exercise also demonstrated that these units could support a Marine Corps Expeditionary Force (composed of a Marine Division, a Marine Air Wing and a Marine Force Service Support Group) during a war. This force numbers about 45,000 Marines.
This was Rudder's last operation with the 14th Marines. He gives up command Aug. 11 to become the Marine Corps Fellow Council to the Foreign Relations in New York City.
He said he will encourage the new commander to consider training at the camp in the next three years. Next summer, the force will train at Fort Carson, Colo., and Fort Sill after that.
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