By Lance Cpl. Stephen Campbell , Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan
U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, established forward operating bases and forward arming and refueling points during exercise Eagle Wrath 2017 at Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji, Japan, June 15-28, 2017.Forward operating bases and forward arming and refueling points were established during the two-week exercise to train the Marines to provide explosives, weaponry, fuel, security, logistics and personnel to a forward line of troops and aircraft.
“At any given time there are six or seven squadrons attached to (Marine Aircraft Group 12),” said U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Frederick Holwerda, the combat engineer platoon commander with MWSS-171. “The forward operating base itself gives them a secure workplace to conduct maintenance for all the aircraft coming in. If they’re under fire and dealing with defending the forward operating base then they can’t focus on maintaining the aircraft, and then there is a gap on coverage for whoever is receiving our support.”
Holwerda said providing security for the squadrons gives the personnel a chance to freely operate within the forward operating base and do what they need to do to accomplish their mission.
During the exercise, the squadron established two forward operating bases and two forward arming and refueling points that could support Marine Aircraft Group 12 during a real deployment.
Compared to previous annual training exercises, Holwerda said this year’s Eagle Wrath has been the most successful.
“I think it was very successful because everybody was involved,” said Holwerda. “We hit the deck and it was game on, this is live, 100 percent go. I think keeping people in that mentality is what really made this successful.”
While this was the most successful Eagle Wrath to date, it did have challenges the Marines needed to overcome. The Marines and sailors learned they needed to establish a second forward operating base, and they only had about four hours to do so.
“The hardest part was packing up, figuring out if you have space for gear and chow, and making sure we had enough bed space for ourselves,” said Sgt. Cassandra Gonzalez, a food service specialist with MWSS-171. “Once you get to the new FOB, it’s the same thing. You need to set up your galley, you have to pack out your gear, make sure you have electricity and then make sure everyone on your team is on the same page.”
Gonzalez said that she and her Marines were up until 2 a.m. setting up their second forward operating base, and then they had to be back up at 3:30 a.m. to start prepping breakfast for the squadron.
Even though the Marines were sleep deprived for setting up during the night, they proved they were willing to accomplish the mission and did so seamlessly.
“We had the idea of the layout; utilities knew exactly how they were going to lay their power grid out, and drafting and surveyors assisted in laying out the forward operating bases. Food service knew where to set up and from there we knew exactly where the tents and concertina wire went,” said Holwerda.
Overall, the squadron proved they were willing to do what it takes to accomplish the mission.
“We worked really hard,” said Gonzalez. “They can be tired and can still make the best of anything no matter how tired they are. They work hard and they are always motivated because they know the mission and know what needs to be done.”
Eagle Wrath 2017 concluded with a two mile hike back to base, and the squadron held a mess night to pay homage to the Marines before them and build camaraderie among the squadron after the exercise.
The squadron is set to begin their annual weapons training on July 3, which will include training with M240B light machine guns, M67 hand grenades, M203 grenade launchers, MK19 grenade launchers and AT-4 rocket launchers, and it will conclude their month-long training.