MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Editor’s note: This article is the second in a series that explains the many facets of MCAS Cherry Point and its role in supporting the warfighter while existing as a responsible member of the Eastern North Carolina community.
Beyond the gates at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., in once desolate areas of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, warfighters prepare for the unknown, as they have here for the past 70 years.
This part of the state is dotted with landing fields and other training areas that date back to the start of World War II. And while the missions of those training areas have evolved over the years along with the weapons of the modern warrior, Cherry Point has continued to manage them to allow Marines and their fellow service members across the Department of Defense to train in a wide array of functions.
This valuable training is made possible by an intricate network of outlying airfields and target ranges. Through this network, leaders at Cherry Point must balance the necessity of military training with a strong and long-lasting relationship with the growing local community.
Aircraft deploy ordnance, train to avoid electronic surveillance, practice supporting and coordinating with the warfighter on the ground, and train to receive ordnance and fuel in a variety of scenarios and missions.
Ground combat element Marines conduct warfighting operations training and become familiar with aviation assets, and Marines with wing support squadrons train for aviation ground support missions, establishing forward arming and refueling points, wartime mess halls, and expeditionary airfields.
Naval special boat teams even hone their ability to attack shore-based enemies from the water.
Marines train at outlying landing fields across eastern North Carolina, including OLF Atlantic, OLF Camp Davis, and OLF Oak Grove.
But perhaps the most visible training area managed by Cherry Point is Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue – or “Bogue Field” – a 900-acre training facility separated from Emerald Isle, a popular tourist destination, by a narrow 1.5-mile stretch of Bogue Sound.
Maj. Erik L. Aubel serves as the airfield operations company commander at Bogue Field. Commonly known among local Marines as the “Mayor of Bogue (Field),” Aubel oversees an intense and broad training schedule and commands more than 100 Marines and Sailors who service the auxiliary installation.
Bogue Field offers a rare training environment for ground and air assets with II Marine Expeditionary Force to be able to integrate and prepare in an austere and expeditionary environment. The runway and taxiways are constructed with heavy, interconnected aluminum matting, the same material used to construct expeditionary airfields around the world. It is also designed to provide pilots an opportunity to practice field carrier landing practice in preparation for the challenging landings they will face on Navy ships at sea.
“Our primary goal is to accomplish that training,” Aubel said. “You can combine all aspects of expeditionary warfare right here at Bogue.”
But Aubel said the Marines at Bogue, hand-in-hand with leaders at Cherry Point and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, work hard to keep a close relationship with the local community. In the seven decades since the airfield was first built, the Marine Corps has constantly adjusted its training at Bogue in consideration of the growing populations that have sprung up in the communities adjacent to the field and across Bogue Sound. Balancing the requirements of military training while working to remain good neighbors is a constant challenge that Cherry Point has met for more than half a century.
Bogue Field serves as an arming and refueling point for Marine aviation assets to conduct broad-spectrum training, preparing for a wartime situation where they receive ordnance and gas quickly, including “hot” refueling which is conducted without shutting down the aircraft engines to provide the fast turnaround often needed in combat.
Like any forward-positioned arming and refueling point, aircraft operating out of Bogue Field frequently use the airfield as a base as they train at Cherry Point’s bombing ranges that lie along the Carolina coast.
“Cherry Point is one of three specific air combat and air to ground training ranges in the Marine Corps. In fact, it is a primary aviation training range for the 2nd MAW and II MEF,” said Kenneth W. Cobb, Cherry Point range management officer.
Cobb said the ranges that surround the air station offer vital training for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force and the Department of Defense as a whole.
“We hit the combined arms aspect with an emphasis on aviation,” Cobb said. “We allow commanders to meet their training objectives.”
Those training objectives are supported through an intricate network of ranges that create a realistic environment for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s pilots. The training network includes the East Coast Electronic Warfare System, which simulates enemy radar to let pilots know when they’ve been identified.
Through this system, warning indicators in the cockpit light up to alert pilots to the same type of enemy threats they will see in combat, Cobb said.
One of Cherry Point’s most employed ranges, Bombing Target 11, lies on Piney Island in Pamlico Sound near the outflow of the Neuse River. This 12,500-acre facility is a multi-function range that allows Marines to train in the delivery of air-to-surface weapons systems, from machine guns to laser-guided ordnance. Community outreach at ranges like Bombing Target 11 involves constant monitoring of the facility airborne safety sweeps, informing members of the local community of the training schedule, and posting warning signs and official notices to mariners to keep fishermen out of harm’s way.
All in all, Cherry Point’s outlying ranges, landing fields and other training areas, when added to the air station’s primary complex, more than double the total acreage in the Cherry Point toolbox. But the added training value, thanks to the dedicated personnel who manage those areas, can’t be measured in additional acreage alone – it is truly measured by the continued success demonstrated by 2nd MAW and the other warfighters who come here to practice the art of war.