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Marines receive specialized training in Yuma through WTI course
Twice a year, Yuma hosts thousands of Marines who converge here to take part in a course designed to hone their battlefield knowledge and skills.
Pilots, weapon system operators, ground combat and combat support service officers from throughout the Marine Corps come to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to take part in the course.
The biannual training, which is held in the spring and fall, is simply known by the Marines who have attended it as WTI, which stands for Weapons and Tactics Instructor course. It is the only training of its kind, providing some of the most realistic training possible in advanced aviation tactics, techniques and procedures across all type aircraft currently being used or will be in the future.
According to an online article, WTI's history can be traced back to the 1950s when the Marine Corps introduced Special Weapons Training Units. In the 1960s, these training units added conventional weapons delivery training to their course syllabus. In the mid- to late 1970s, the Marine Corps experimented with different models of aviation weapon and tactics training.
Pleased with the success of the training, the Marine Corps commissioned Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics (MAWTS) 1 in the summer of 1978 to conduct the WTI courses.
Yuma is considered the premiere location for the training with its year-round flying weather and the nearby military ranges that provide protected air space for the specialized aviation training.
Marines also say that the military's close relationship with Yuma allows them to train in a realistic urban environment that would not be allowed in other communities.
The training helps build communication and training relationships between pilots and troops on the ground performing such combat zone tasks as transporting troops and providing close-air support, say MAWTS 1 officials.
During the course, students receive classroom instruction combined with a rigorous flight curriculum during the training, which lasts about six weeks. It includes integrated and ground training.
Since war and the way the enemy fights constantly change, so must Marine Corps training to ensure victory. The WTI curriculum is constantly updated from lessons learned during current Marine Corps operations around the world.
MAWTS-1 also keeps in contact with other services and foreign services to keep the WTI training in line with the realities of joint operations.
Marines are taught about a variety of weapons and how they are used, tactics and how best to utilize them together with other Marine aviation units as well as command and control systems.
Upon their graduation, students will be designated weapons and tactics instructors — becoming the teachers who pass on to their squadrons what they learned while attending WTI.
There is no written or traditional final exam.
Instead, units participate in a week-long final exercise during which they plan and conduct an evacuation of simulated civilians staged at Kiwanis Park and Trinity Christian Center. The exercise provides the WTI students with realistic training consistent with a mission they may encounter. Given that there have been 16 noncombatant evacuation operations since the Korean War, it's quite possible today's students will be called upon to do a mission like this, Marine officers say.
City Administrator Greg Wilkinson, a retired Marine Corps officer who completed his first WTI in 1980 and took several updated courses over his military career, observed that Marines who train here are deployed all over the world.
“The things they learn and rehearse here are applied not only to combat but also humanitarian missions,” he said. “Everyone equates them with Iraq and Afghanistan, but they actually do more relief efforts around the world.”
For example, the day after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, a news clip of the first Marines to respond showed a Marine pilot with a MAWTS-1 patch on his sleeve, Wilkinson said.
“That means he was a WTI instructor,” Wilkinson said. “They're the ones who lead missions of that type. He was there doing exactly what he had trained to do in Yuma. That's how important this training is.”