'Workhorses' refresh capabilities with field training

28 Sep 2012 | Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

The Workhorse of the Wing lived up to its name during an exercise at Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue Sept. 11 – 16.

Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 Marines and Sailors practiced skill sets in a wide variety of airfield operations scenarios to maintain their proficiency and preparedness during the exercise. In one such scenario, the squadron’s Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting unit was put to the test.

The firefighters practiced a scenario where an AV-8B Harrier notionally executed a hard landing, the aircraft was on fire, and the pilot was unconscious. An actual Harrier added a necessary element of realism to the training.

The scene unfolded as two fire trucks rushed in and sprayed the aircraft with water cannons. When the flames died, the firefighters dismounted their trucks, grabbed a ladder, and pulled 2nd Lt. Ryan Collins, playing the role of a pilot in distress, from the aircraft. Some firefighters performed lifesaving steps on Collins while others put out the last remnants of fire.

“There are so many things that can go wrong in our job with us trying to get the pilots out,” said Sgt. Keith Molinary, the training chief of the MWSS-271 Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting. “The aircraft can blow up and the ordnance can go off, so it’s really important, especially in our job, to keep our Marines trained.”

As each of the Marines carried out their assigned duties, their staff noncommissioned officers directed on proper execution. The Marines rescuing the pilot needed backup from a firehose-carrying Marine in case the fire re-emerged. Gunnery Sgt. Ekewaka S. Waiau, the aircraft rescue firefighter chief for the squadron, quizzed Marines on emergency aid procedures such as checking for pulse, breathing, and CPR.

Afterward, the salvage crew came to take the wrecked Harrier back to base. Marines took measurements of the wings and then wrapped the aircraft in heavy duty slings. A crane capable of lifting 50 tons placed the aircraft on a flatbed semi-trailer, which then drove it away.

Salvage operations can be dangerous and there are a number of factors to consider when salvaging, said Lance Cpl. Matthew D. Nash, a heavy equipment operator with MWSS-271.

“The ground has to be level and solid,” said Nash. “The weight cannot be too far away from the crane or it can tilt or fall over. If the load is not in the sling correctly, it might shift and hurt someone."

With this training, the operators feel more confident they can do their job without anyone getting hurt.

“I feel more ready to deploy because now I have some insight in what’s involved in recovering a downed airplane,” said Lance Cpl. Cody A. Blanford, a heavy equipment operator with the squadron.

“Being a heavy equipment operator, I have to have stick time to know (my) equipment and how it handles.”

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point