AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
There are many questions within the Marine Corps aviation community these days, including airframe transitions, future deployments and combat zone developments. To answer these questions, the Marine Corps sent the deputy commandant for aviation to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Nov. 29, 2009.
Lt. Gen. George J. Trautman III visited with the Marines of Marine Aircraft Group 26 (Reinforced) to give them a broader perspective of the future of Marine Corps aviation and to answer questions posed by the Marines in a town hall-style meeting.
“I’d really like to hear your questions,” said Trautman. “The value of me coming out here to meet with you is to go back and reintegrate my staff’s efforts with mine to get you the resources you need to be successful.”
A widespread concern was aircraft replacement and the threat it posed to the Marines’ careers. For many service members, the years of experience they have gained while working with a particular aircraft will come to an end as more modern airframes replace them. One such example is the MV-22 Osprey, which has slowly rotated into use throughout the Marine Corps and will eventually replace the CH-46 Sea Knight. This has marked a career-changing transition for many.
“A lot of personal careers are affected by how these transitions go,” said Col. James S. O’Meara, commanding officer of MAG-26 (Rein). “It’s a challenge to transition to another [Military Occupational Specialty]. The qualifications that they have built up won’t immediately transfer over. You can move up to that point quicker than [new Marines] because you can transition some of that knowledge and experience, but it is a starting-over point that has its challenges.”
O’Meara also spoke personally with Trautman from a commander’s viewpoint regarding the safety of MAG-26 (Rein) personnel.
“It’s Iraq, and threats have gone down significantly, but one thing that has not changed is the challenges the aviators have faced from the weather and the terrain, which can easily cause spatial disorientation, especially when the visibility is down or at night,” explained O’Meara.
In addition to the residual risks in the operating area, the responsible drawdown of Marines and equipment from Al Anbar province has brought many units near the end of their deployment, which can sometimes mean an increase of on-the-job accidents.
“Almost all incidents happen within the last 30 to 60 days [of a deployment],” O’Meara commented. “Their minds are focused on home and the advanced parties have left, so there is reduced leadership on the flight line. We’ve historically seen ground mishaps go up during that time, and occasionally there have been aviation mishaps. Statistically we’re in a riskier time, but what’s different is that we’re all going at the same time, rather than normally just a few units. We have to really fight complacency. We really have to manage the risks.”
After meeting with the officers of MAG-26 (Rein), Trautman visited with junior enlisted Marines to discuss their priorities as well.
The day proved a worthy experience for many Marines, who now hold a better understanding of aerial innovations and enhanced perceptions of what the future holds for them and the entirety of Marine Corps aviation.
“Marine aviation has never been in better shape or in better hands,” Trautman emphasized. “It’s easy for me to be the deputy commandant for aviation when I have Marines like you. As you leave here you should be very proud of yourselves. This is an incredible accomplishment.”