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Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan

MCAS Iwakuni is a mission-ready air station, capable of providing continuous base-operating support for tenant organizations and follow-on U.S. and allied forces during training, combat or contingency (HA/DR) operations throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific region.
MALS-12 Marines support VMFA-122, build munitions during Southern Frontier

By Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg | Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan | August 24, 2016

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Marines with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 bustled around the ammunition storage point as the sun beat down around them, but movements were cautious as they concentrated on the job at hand; building hundreds of thousands of pounds of munitions for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 during Southern Frontier at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia.

This three week unit level training evolution helps MALS-12 gain qualifications and certification upgrades, as well as increasing proficiency in their trade.

“Our main goal during Southern Frontier is to meet mission requirements of the squadron by assembling munitions safely and efficiently, and delivering them on time to meet their schedule,” said Capt. James Martin, aviation ordnance officer for MALS-12 and Marine Aircraft Group-12. “Employment of these munitions enables our pilots to gain and maintain qualifications which would otherwise be hard to achieve at other training areas within the Pacific area of responsibility.”

With an end goal to drop 138 tons with a net explosive weight of 70,800 pounds valued at 3.4 million dollars, ordnance Marines are the driving force behind the success of Southern Frontier.

“There is a massive amount of pressure and responsibility on our shoulders to meet our goals safely and successfully,” said Sgt. Joel Farmer, aviation ordnance technician and quality assurance safety observer assigned to MALS-12. “We are building joint direct attack munitions that weigh 1,000 and 2,000 pounds, as well as laser guided bomb units while mitigating any risks associated with high explosive operations through strict compliance of explosive safety directives.”

Laser and GPS GBUs are precision guided munitions designed to reduce the risk of error and collateral damage by accurately hitting a specific target.

While construction of the bombs is under way, the builders take several precautions to avoid damage to weapons and components.

“There are so many moving parts in a build and with roughly three to 10 Marines moving about it gets chaotic, but it’s a controlled chaos,” said Farmer. “It’s important, especially while training our new guys, that we are all aware of precautions, such as drop criteria. If we’re dealing with one of our warheads and somebody drops it, we need to know that it was dropped, where and how far it was dropped.”

As a quality assurance safety observer, Farmer said following the criteria is vital. By signing off on munitions and delivering them to the line, we are assuring the pilots that the explosives were assembled correctly and will effectively detonate on impact.

“Our job is not done until the bomb drops and explodes on target,” said Farmer. “That’s when we know we did a 100 percent job.”

Lt. Col. Michael P. Brennan, F/A-18C pilot with VMFA-122, said that ordnance Marines providing munitions to the flying squadron is crucial to mission accomplishment at Southern Frontier, allowing the pilots to gain the confidence needed for flying a jet loaded with ammunition, dropping the munitions on specific targets and preparing for a combat situation.

Unit level training like Southern Frontier offers the ordnance Marines a unique opportunity to train in heavy, high explosives weapon body groups not allowed in Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement.

“Our secondary goal for Southern Frontier is to expose our more junior ordnance Marines to high operational tempo environments working on munitions groups they don’t typically experience, like the laser guided weapons,” said Martin. “With this exposure comes potential explosive handler qualifications and certification upgrades to increase and make them more proficient in their craft.”

Providing aviation logistics support to VMFA-122 during Southern Frontier not only afforded the ordnance Marines the exposure to infrequently used weaponry, but expanded their knowledge and skill as well.

“Every opportunity that MAG-12 has to project forces somewhere by practicing to go to places like Australia only increases our technical and tactical proficiency,” said Martin. “We should take advantage of every opportunity, and I really hope we can continue coming to Tindal in the future, because of the remarkable training experience.”


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