YPG remains a valuable training ground for military
Most YPG folks know the sound of gunfire and missiles, and the sight of combat aircraft as ordinary occurrences. Nearly everyone assumes the aforementioned are the result of equipment testing programs at the Army's busiest test center.
In the years of rapidly fielding platforms such as the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, the Advanced Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI) and technologies to defeat the deadly power of improvised explosive devices, many members of the workforce may not have noticed the ever-increasing number of troops utilizing YPG's vast range space for training.
This unobtrusiveness wasn't an accident.
“The Training Exercise Management Office (TEMO) works for Yuma Test Center, and our mission is to protect test,” said Luis Arroyo, TEMO chief. “We support training by ensuring all test activities are not hindered by training activities. We have to be able to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and find every efficiency possible in order to get units onto the range safely and without affecting test operations.”
Currently, a battalion of Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., are calling YPG home while participating in the annual Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course staged in Yuma twice a year for Marine Corps aviators, ground combat planners and support personnel. Also participating are over 200 soldiers of the Fifth Battalion, Fifth Air Defense Regiment, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Aside from their participation in the Marine exercises, the unit is taking advantage of their time at the proving ground to conduct their own training, which requires a large swath of empty range.
“We chose YPG for the training opportunities the facility provides us,” said Lt. Col. Michael Melito, battalion commander. “This, for us, replicates what we would do if we were to deploy to an immature theater.”
A major element of the unit's training involves keeping current on their anti-aircraft skills by firing Stinger surface-to-air missiles and .50 caliber machine guns from a turret atop modified High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) at small unmanned aircraft. Steered by ground controllers under a nearby pop-up tent, the unmanned craft also boast sensors that track incoming rounds, and credit soldiers with hits if the projectile comes within five feet of a moving target. The ability to conduct live firing in an isolated area underneath airspace that is prohibited to civilian aircraft is coveted for this type of training, and YPG's vast size and restricted airspace allows units to do so.
“We make it very convenient to use our ranges for white-space training,” said Arroyo.
This isn't the first time Melito has come to YPG, either. A positive experience during his last visit in 2007 prompted him to volunteer his battalion for the current WTI in order to piggyback their own training needs on the visit.
“Support has been outstanding,” said Melito. “The installation has come a long way in terms of training and range support. Other than the heat, we are pleased with everything here.”
“We received both battalions about the same time,” added Arroyo. “That's over 1,100 soldiers and Marines and their ancillary equipment and supplies in a three- to four-day span. It's a challenge, but we can do it, and do it well.”
Mark Schauer writes for The Outpost, the on-base newspaper at Yuma Proving Ground.