MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. -- Marines from 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing joined several other commands as well as sailors, civilians and a Merchant Marine crew aboard the SS Wright in the Port of Morehead City, North Carolina, July 30, as the crew of 234 prepared to set sail for Exercise Carolina Dragon 14.
The purpose of the exercise is to deploy a floating Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Department to act as an augment to an air combat element in order to provide a platform to repair critical aircraft parts, said Col. Chuck Dunne, assistant chief of staff for the 2nd MAW Aviation Logistics Department.
The biennial exercise is held aboard a 602-foot-long former Merchant Marine vessel, an aviation logistics ship, which traveled from its assignment at the Maritime Administration, Baltimore, Maryland, to Morehead City to join the Military Sealift Command.
2nd MAW joined Marines from several aviation logistics squadrons, wing support squadrons, and wing communications squadrons to form the detachment of personnel who will operate the ship for its two-week voyage off the Carolina coast.
During the exercise, Marines operated booms and loaded and configured a total of 121 mobile maintenance facilities aboard the ship. The mobile facilities are fully powered by the ship and organized to create an operational maintenance facility at sea.
The containers hold aircraft spare parts, repair shop equipment and testing facilities to augment 2nd MAW during real-world operations, said Dunne.
The SS Wright serves as a continuous, steady power source, used when shore-based maintenance departments are not feasible, and is equipped with "clean power," according to Dunne. Remaining operational without a generator in expeditionary environments is essential when repairing aircraft parts and maintaining flight operations. The ship, with all its capabilities, can sustain air operations for up to six-months.
The SS Wright is outfitted with a large helicopter landing pad and flight deck that allows Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions and Navy UH-1Y Venoms to land and deliver equipment needed to test and repair parts, and aid pick up of items that have been repaired by mechanics aboard the ship.
"One time per day the pilots land on the flight deck to practice their deck qualifications and practice dropping off components for repair," said Dunne. "That time also helps the personnel on board to remain proficient in the core competency of using the ships equipment."
The exercise is an opportunity for the squadrons to simulate their role in a notional crisis, according to Sgt. Justin Barnes.
"Coming to the exercise with a specific skill-set and working together with Marines and Sailors from several different locations across the country and from Japan who we have never worked with before is teaching us to better communicate and work together as a team," said Barnes, a consolidated automatic support system technician with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26.
The exercise helps the service members to polish their skills and prepare to serve aboard an AIMB, according to Barnes. It is a way for them to put into practice their communications skills and sustainability capabilities.
"Some of us came to this exercise with expertise and we are trying to train the newer Marines to get them comfortable working with the equipment and giving them the knowledge they need to succeed," said Barnes. "It is perfect. The exercise gets us in the habit and gets us trained so that when we do have to deploy, we're ready."