Marines get OK for spring training program in Yuma
Yuma Catholic High School will transform into an imaginary hospital zone with dozens of real military helicopter landings taking place on the night of April 10, Marine Corps officials told the Yuma City Council during its Tuesday work session.
The training is critical to the success of this country's war on terrorism, said Col. James Cooney, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, and Col. Raymond Fox, commanding officer of Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1.
MAWTS, as the MCAS squadron is called, conducts the training as part of its twice-yearly Weapons and Tactics Instructor course. This spring's WTI begins Sunday and ends April 17.
During that time, 186 military students and 1,800 support personnel along with about 75 aircraft from across the country will descend on Yuma. Students will spend the first few weeks studying course manuals written by MAWTS instructors before taking to the skies March 19, when flight operations for the course begin.
Between 4:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. April 10, the students will conduct special security operations at three sites in the city, including Yuma Catholic High School, Joe Henry Park and Centennial Middle School, said Capt. Michael Tyson, coordinator of the event.
Most of the 25 to 35 helicopters involved in that night's training will land at the high school in flights of two to four aircraft at a time, Tyson explained. Unless the helicopters are landing or taking off, they'll fly over the city at a minimum height of 500 feet.
About 160 Marines will take part in the operation, with 150 of them staging at the high school. Lesser numbers of helicopters and Marines will land at the park and the middle school.
The operation will happen in three phases, Tyson said. First, helicopters will land and drop off security forces at the sites. Then a ground convoy will make its way from the Somerton vicinity up Avenue B to the high school on 28th Street in a mock hospital resupply effort.
During this time, unexpected things that the Marine students will have to react to will begin to happen at the park and at the middle school. Some of the "contingencies," as they are called, will be casualty evacuations while others will be enemy prisoner evacuations, Tyson said.
Finally, the security forces will be extracted from all three sites and everyone will go back to MCAS to discuss into the wee hours of the morning what went right and what may have gone wrong.
Fox told the city council that he stood before them humbled in the knowledge that he was asking the city to commit to a very serious, communitywide endeavour.
"We do not take this for granted," Fox said. "We know it's a sacrifice for all citizens of Yuma."
But, he said, there is no better place in the Southwest than Yuma to do this kind of training because of the broad-based community support here.
Cooney said the need for such urban training continues to be imperative given that Marines are doing these same operations daily in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and will continue to do them for a long time to come.
He said that during a recent training event in Yuma called Operation Desert Talon - which was a similar effort but lasted for several days - MCAS noticed a "significant spike" in telephone calls received by the air station. Most of the calls asked about the unusual helicopter activity, despite a heavy public information campaign just prior to the operation.
There was also one letter to the editor in The Sun that officials read carefully, Cooney said.
Cooney said he and Fox take such calls and public concerns seriously. He said he's hoping a very "proactive" public information program this year will drive those numbers down.