Bird’s eye view: Cherry Point Marines fly local officials to premier bombing range

24 Oct 2012 | Cpl. Tyler J. Bolken

Local government officials recently got an opportunity to see first-hand how Cherry Point’s premier bombing range provides unique training opportunities to America’s warfighters.

Seven officials, all members of the Civilian Military Community Council, spent a day at Bombing Target 11, located on the remote, eastern Carteret County spit of land known as Piney Island. Escorted by Cherry Point commanding officer Col. Philip Zimmerman, they witnessed training operations conducted by Marines, airmen and British soldiers.

The event jumped off to a great start when the visitors were lifted to the range aboard a Cherry Point HH-46E, the easily-recognized orange and gray “Pedro” helicopters that frequent the Carolina coast. These venerable search and rescue aircraft, operated by Cherry Point’s Marine Transport Squadron 1, support air operations for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, which includes performing search and rescue operations and daily range sweeps to clear encroaching boaters from the local bombing ranges.

This lift was incidental to the overall purpose of the visit by the council members – it helped the visitors get a bird’s eye view of the range and the associated dangers to boaters and fishermen who trespass into the range’s restricted areas.

“To visually see and experience the importance of that bombing range, not only hearing about it, but to see it and experience it was great,” said Pamlico County Commissioner Christine Mele.

After conducting their own version of a range sweep aboard Pedro, the visitors spent the remainder of their time observing range operations from the ground and a target observation tower. Attack helicopters from 2nd MAW flew overhead with fighter jets from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base of Goldsboro, N.C., in coordination with Marines and British soldiers on the ground.

Piney Island's unique geography offers every branch of the U.S. military valuable training opportunities, explained Mark Condra, the range maintenance officer. In addition to the air-to-ground targets, the island’s surrounding shallow waters permit waterborne training operations to engage the range’s variety of targets from water to shore.

“Taking them out to the ranges enabled them to learn so much,” said Zimmerman. “They were exposed to more about Marine aviation in a four-hour period than what two years of meetings could get across.”

The CMCC meets with Cherry Point leadership four times a year to discuss issues of mutual interest to the public and Cherry Point. One topic of conversation has been that Cherry Point grounds and facilities encompass much more than what is inside the air station fence line.

“The discussion went toward, ‘Could we possibly go visit this area, so we can better see how it all fits together,’” said Tyler Harris, the Cherry Point community plans and liaison officer. “That is what it is all about, educating them. They saw how complicated it is and what coordination is required.”

This visit helped put those discussions into perspective for the council members.

The scale and concurrency of training evolutions underscores the significance of the island to the community, Cherry Point and the safety of the nation, said Newport Mayor Derryl Garner.

“It’s critical to the training for defense of our country,” said Mele.

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point