MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Friday marked the end of the largest 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing training exercise in more than a decade, when Marines and Sailors up and down the East Coast successfully wrapped up MAILED FIST 1-11, after two weeks of field testing and operations.
Although wildfires have held siege over much of eastern North Carolina, blanketing the region in thick smoke, the 2nd MAW used that as just another element in an opportunity to test its ability to adjust operations under challenging and changing conditions.
The exercise, which ran from June 13-24, sought to polish 2nd MAW’s ability to serve as the aviation force in readiness for all aspects of Marine Corps operations by streamlining integration amongst 2nd MAW units.
MAILED FIST was designed by Maj. Gen. Jon M. Davis, commanding general of 2nd MAW, to combine smaller, pre-existing training events into a single large-force exercise that multiple units and organizations could join in on to exercise their own part in the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. Davis likened the concept to the old stone soup parable, where a man convinces a village that his stone soup would be the best soup the villagers had ever tasted. With nothing but a pot filled with boiling water and a single stone, he offers that his wonderful soup would taste even better if each of the villagers would add their own favorite ingredients. By the end of the day, the villagers are sharing a steaming pot full of meat and vegetables that is indeed the best soup they ever tasted.
Although a large part of 2nd MAW is deployed forward to Afghanistan, Davis’ version of stone soup meant involving the more than 9,000 remaining 2nd MAW Marines and Sailors from the three main East Coast Marine Corps air stations: Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.; MCAS New River, N.C.; and MCAS Beaufort, S.C., as well as Marine ground units, reserve units and U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force units. MAILED FIST was conducted at roughly a dozen different military installations along the East Coast, and two civilian airports. Virtually every type of Marine Corps aircraft – unmanned aircraft, jets, KC-130s, helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft, took part in multiple operations. The entire aviation support infrastructure was tested, including everything from communications to air defense, to forward and aerial refueling to providing hot food and clean water to the Marines in the field.
The exercise also offered benefits to both the Marines and to the American public. By doing the training locally, 2nd MAW was able to allow Marines from different units to learn to better integrate, while lowering the cost to the taxpayer. “My number one priority is making sure my Marines are ready for war,” said Davis. “With tightening budgets and dwindling resources, we have to find smarter ways to get the training we need while getting the most out of the taxpayer’s dollar. MAILED FIST lets us do both.”
Previously, 2nd MAW units deployed to the West Coast to conduct this type of training. Doing it locally and on a large scale not only saved money, but also served to help units familiarize themselves with one another and hone their abilities to work together.
Lt. Col. Matthew R. McGath, who served as the senior watch officer for the Wing Operations Center, said that aspect of the training was one of the most vital – in a real conflict, smaller units are brought together and must learn to integrate to accomplish one central mission.
“We are taking a lot of Marines who have not deployed yet and allowing them to see how they will perform their jobs in a deployed environment,” McGath said. “This simulation is as close as it can get to the real thing. The fires added a lot of realism to it.”
The exercise marked the first time the new Wing Operations Center was used. The WOC serves as a command and control center for aviation operations.
“It’s a place where we can move the chess pieces across the operational spectrum,” said Lt. Col. Martin J. Forrest IV, the current operations officer for 2nd MAW. “It will allow us to train and execute large-force exercises much more realistically.”
Additionally, for the first time in more than a decade, an AV-8B Harrier squadron deployed and operated entirely out of Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue.
Ultimately, MAILED FIST involved thousands of service members from Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force units in an effort to save time and money while ensuring 2nd MAW remains prepared as II Marine Expeditionary Force’s rapid deployment force-in-readiness.
“I hope Marines realize their participation and their jobs are critical to the overall warfighting effort of 2nd MAW,” McGath said. “Without them, this exercise would have fallen flat on its face.”