ABOARD USS KEARSARGE -- As the Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary (Special Operations Capable) rounded the Horn of Africa Aug. 10, pilots and forward air controllers from the MEU took advantage of the opportunity at Godoria Range in Djibouti to conduct an air support coordination exercise.
Djibouti's ranges, run by Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, offer the MEU and ESG the flexibility to conduct nearly any type of training the Navy Marine Corps Team is capable of.
The training this day however, was executed in two events centered on aviation assets from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-162 (Reinforced).
The first event consisted of attacks from two UH-1N Huey and two AH-1W Cobra helicopters. The second event was identical with the addition of two AV-8B Harrier jets.
Forward air controllers (FAC) positioned on the ground and in the aircraft guided each strike. It is the FAC's job to assess the objective and provide target data to the pilot(s) in the attack aircraft. This communication between the FACs and the pilots was a pivotal training objective for the exercise, according to Capt. Scott S. Peters, a FAC and the assistant air officer for the MEU.
From a ridgeline high above the impact area, Peters and two other FACs from Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 8th Marines guided the helicopters to the targets during the first mission. Following each strike the FACs relayed damage assessments to the pilots.
In the second event, Cobra pilots served as airborne forward air controllers for the Harrier pilots who dropped bombs on the target. Airborne forward air control allows the squadron to control its own assets when there is not a forward air controller on the ground.
Overall, the helicopter pilots and aircrews shot 47 2.75-inch rockets, 600 rounds of 20mm ammunition and 4,200 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition. The Harriers dropped 12 500-pound BDU-45 practice bombs.
After the brief but effective exercise, the Hueys picked up the FACs on the ground and returned to the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) already steaming north in the Red Sea.
The MEU will conduct operations from the Red Sea while continuing its mission as the strategic reserve for Central Command until the end of the month. From there, the ESG will return to the Mediterranean Sea and begin preparations for the voyage home.