U.S. Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171’s heavy equipment (HE) and expeditionary airfield (EAF) companies built “Quicksand,” a landing zone, at Japan Self-Defense Force’s Haramura Maneuver Area in Hiroshima, Japan, during exercise Kamoshika Wrath 17-1, Jan. 22-28, 2017.
The landing zone is a 96-foot by 96-foot vertical takeoff and landing pad meant for AV-8B Harrier fighter aircraft and various helicopters in an expeditionary environment.
The process required a site survey, dirt leveling, grading and assembling 48 AM-2 aluminum matts.
“We took measurements and made sure the area was suitable enough to construct the pad,” said U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Richard Bassitt, EAF chief with MWSS-171. “Then we tested the soil density and passed that off to the engineers and HE company letting them know what our requirements were. That allowed them to determine how much ground work was required.”
After the site survey was completed the HE company worked quickly to create a flat, even surface to fit the requirements needed by EAF.
“We have a very small window of accuracy we have to hit,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Wil Whidden, an HE operator and site commander for the exercise. “Any variation outside that window, we have to come back in and add more material or shave more out.”
Poor ground quality, fickle weather conditions and limited time challenged HE while preparing the ground for EAF.
“The material we had on-site was not great,” said Whidden. “In order to meet a 24-hour deadline we brought in 411 cubic-yards of loose dirt.”
Building the landing zone allowed the Marines to gain experience operating vehicles that they typically don’t use.
“This was a good experience for me and many of the other operators out here,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michael Thompson, an HE operator with MWSS-171. “We really don’t get a chance to work with a lot of dirt equipment back in Iwakuni.”
The HE and EAF Marines were able to work in unfamiliar conditions during the scenario-based, realistic training to complete the pad.
“It’s a training evolution required for us,” said Bassitt. “Being in the area that we are in you don’t get a whole lot of chances to do this so it’s a very rare opportunity. It’s awesome that we can get our Marines out here. Trained a step above the rest makes us that much more proficient when we go down range.”