Cedar Island on fire

29 Aug 2002 | Sgt. Joshua S. Higgins

"Apache, this is Lightening. ... Fire for effect six-zero-six, seven-seven-eight. ... Time on target, 28," called a camouflage paint-laden radio operator. Minutes later two AV-8B Harriers roared overhead and engaged a simulated truck convoy 1,800 meters north of the Marine's position.

This was a common sight when II Marine Liaison Element seized an opportunity to invade Cedar Island here Aug. 19-23 to hone its skills at calling in close-air support.

During the exercise, Marines took on a fictitious enemy in the process of conducting military strikes against an allied nation's established government in an attempt to overthrow it. II MLE's mission was to tactically insert firepower control teams to assist with the government's preemptive attack on the enemy by rendering fire-support coordination, a mission Lt. Col. John M. Owens, II MLE commanding officer, said is representative for his Marines.

"This unit is designed to provide terminal air control with joint, allied and coalition forces so they can make use of U.S. air, artillery and Naval gunfire," said Owens, a native of Starkville, Miss.

With a wide array of different nations and agencies to support, calling in air missions can sometimes be difficult for the Marines. 1st Lt. Michael Deardorff, firepower control team leader, said it often depends on the type of air support they are calling as to what kind of radio lingo needs to be used. He said the unit must train hard and often in order to stay proficient.

"Our unit is comprised of above-average Marines who have been cross-trained in highly specialized areas," said Deardorff. "Any live-fire exercise we do increases our proficiency, but the real benefit for us is working with the different agencies outside the Marine Corps to develop an understanding of how they do business. So when we call air for the Navy, Air Force, or other countries, we can talk to them intelligently and increase their confidence in dropping ordnance for us."

According to Deardorff, the assurance his unit strives for was somewhat depleted in 1998 when the Marine Corps decided to change its name from Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company and form a smaller and less-equipped unit by instating II MLE in 1999. He said after the change, their reputation of being CAS experts seemed to fade away with the "ANGLICO" name, and the teams have not been used to their capabilities since.

"We spend a lot of time and money doing training like this and it's frustrating when we're not properly being utilized," said the Fairhill, Md., native. "So when we are out here training with the Air Force and Navy like this, we're also attempting to regain that good reputation we once had. We want to become sought after again with the hope that people will want to use us to get on the ground during a battle and do good things for our country."

Owens said things are beginning to look up for his company after a recent statement by Gen. James L. Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps, saying he intends to reinstate ANGLICO.

"Right now we can only support the three Marine Expeditionary Units at Camp Lejeune," said Owens. "When we are reinstated as ANGLICO, it will allow us to expand and support the entire II Marine Expeditionary Force with better-trained and more-qualified Marines." 

Nevertheless training here at Range BT-11 went exactly as planned, giving the II MLE Marines and their commander even more confidence in their abilities. The unit successfully called in more than 150 CAS missions and assisted Marines from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment with employing numerous 81 mm mortar rounds throughout the week, which ultimately led to the retreat of their fabricated foe.

"This week has been great," said Cpl. Christopher L. Gallo, a technical chief from Egg Harbor City, N.J. "Just knowing I have control of that aircraft and what I say to the pilot is the determining factor of where his rounds land is an awesome feeling."

Owens said it is really impressive seeing such young Marines taking the lead in air- support missions.

"They are highly capable and getting better all the time," he said.