A tight budget is somewhat hampering US Marines and US Navy expeditionary training in practicing to defend the strategic very important Northern Marianas Island in the Pacific these days. During Exercise Forage Fury III at Guam and Tinian there, the Marines-led forces can train on preparing helicopter landing zones only. Larger airplanes – like the KC-130J Super Hercules planned to be put into action – have to stay at bay, which basically means less fun and probably a bit of a disappointment for many troops.
About 1,300 service men/women and supporting personnel of the US Armed Forces started Forage Fury III on 24 September 2014. Tinian is the satellite island right off the coast of the larger and better-known Saipan – all part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and together with Guam one of the most militarized US areas in the world.
“The exercise has a heavy emphasis on tactical aviation and aviation ground support to further develop expeditionary combat capabilities in the Marianas Island Range Complex,” according to a USMC statement. The exercise main asset is the Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. It’s normal base is MCAS Iwakuni in Japan.
Part of the original plan was to build an austere landing zone for a KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft on Echo Runway at Tinian, according Capt. Kevin M. Wheeler, the actions officer for FF III and the aviation ground support detachment officer in charge with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, MAG-12.
“Just like in real life, plans change,” said Wheeler. “The runway repairs were too much to handle within our budget. So, at this point, we had to change it over to helicopter operations.”
The US Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25, Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Pacific, is the primary helicopter squadron using the 7,000 by 500 feet runway cleared by Marine Wing Support Squadron 171’s heavy equipment operators.
One of the main missions of MWSS-171, apart from building expeditionary runways, is to protect Marines before, during and after the building process.
While at the small island of Tinian, the Marines also improve local roads and support other projects to help the community and keep the infrastructure at a good level.
Forager Fury III is scheduled till 6 October 2014.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger, incl. source information provided by the USMC