It started with a Staff Sergeant from the Meteorological Department giving the weather update to the group of Huey pilots. Wind Direction, Temperatures throughout the day, the angle of the Sun, and it was very precise. Sitting in on the mission briefing early in the morning, the room was quiet except for the speaker, everyone else including pilots, and crew chiefs were paying attention and taking notes. Then it was the Maintenance and Supply Officers turn to speak, where he stated which helicopters were flying, what part might be missing from each aircraft and how much ammunition was on board each Huey. Finally it was time for the Mission Brief. Given were the targets, the location, how the mission would be ran, and where the resupplying would take place., and then we were ready to board the UH-1Y Huey.
As we took off from MCAS Yuma, we flew northwest over the Colorado River, the border between Arizona and California and shortly thereafter entered the Chocolate Mountains of California and it’s bombing range. We would be supporting both infantry and artillery units on the ground. Twice a year, pilots, weapon system operators, ground combat and combat support service officers from throughout the Marine Corps come to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to take part in a course designed to hone their battlefield knowledge and expertise.
The biannual training, which is held in the spring and in the fall, is simply known by the Marines who have attended it as WTI, which stands for Weapons and Tactics Instructor course. It is also the only training of its kind.
“The training helps build communication and training relationships between pilots and troops on the ground performing such tasks as transporting troops and providing close-air support,” said Gunnery Sgt. Dunk of the public affairs office at MCAS Yuma. “Students in the course can take what they’ve learned back to their units to use as a training tool.”
I watched the Huey’s two Crew Chief/Gunners ready their weapons., On the Port (left) side of the Huey was a .50 caliber Browning machine gun, and on the Starboard (right) side was the 7.62 GAU-17/A Gatling gun attached to a 40,000 round ammunition box.
We were flying over the mountain tops at approximately 150 to 180 mph, and then suddenly would dive into the canyons, where it felt like one could touch the sides of the mountains with your hands. Suddenly the gunners would open up with their weapons and you could feel the repercussions of the .50 cal reverberating throughout the entire aircraft or the heat from the muzzle of the Gatling as it was firing it’s 3,000 a minute. The targets were getting hammered on each pass, and then it was time for the pilots to show their skills with the rockets. The Huey carries rocket pods on both sides of the aircraft, carrying 7 rockets in each pod, and in this case, we were carrying Flechette round rockets on one side and High Explosive (HE) on the other.
Flying at high speed, we would suddenly take an attack position where we were tilted down, staring down the throat of our target. The rockets were fired, flares would be fired, and our door gunners sent even more steel flying towards the target. The noise was deafening.
Taught by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics (MAWTS) 1, students receive classroom instruction combined with a rigorous flight curriculum during the training, which lasts about six weeks. It includes integrated and ground training.
Marines are taught about a variety of weapons and how they are used, tactics and how best to utilize them together with other Marine aviation units as well as command and control systems.
One student from at least every Marine aviation unit will attend the training. Upon their graduation, students will be designated as a weapons and tactics instructor.
The newly designated instructors, Dunk said, will then return to their squadrons where they in turn become the teachers, passing on what they learned while attending WTI.
One of the most impression observations I made, was at times, the Gatling gun would jam, and I watched as the Gunner, would calmly start working to get the gun back into action, so matter what angle the Huey was flying at, or how fast. The gunner would only have a few seconds to take apart the weapon, clear the jam, and then put the weapon back together and start firing again. No easy task!
With each graduating class of Marines trained in the WTI’s, the Marine Corps is proving once again that they are ready for anything and always the “First to Fight”.