“Disaster” will strike Yuma this month, as it does twice a year as part of the Marine Corps Weapons and Tactics Instructor course.
The Assault Support Tactics 3 exercise will take place Oct. 18 at various sites around the city, and citizens are encouraged to participate and watch.
“Spectators are highly encouraged. It adds to the realism of the scenario,” said Maj. Gregory Horchak, WTI coordinator.
Horchak and Col. David Suggs appeared before the Yuma City Council last month to brief members on the WTI course that is happening now.
“I want to make sure everyone understands the importance of the relationship between the city and the Marine Corps,” Suggs said. “And the citizens of Yuma being able to give us this opportunity to showcase a lot of the TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) that we have and be able to hone those skills.”
In Yuma, the AST-3 exercise will center on a foreign humanitarian assistance operation. Concurrently, students will conduct a non-combatant evacuation operation in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Suggs noted that the exercise gives junior officers, many who have never been deployed, realistic training that is consistent with a mission they may execute in the “real world.”
“This is the first time that they can really get the integration piece and tie into an almost real world-type ops and being able to use the city of Yuma as a training ground aid. So thank you very much for allowing us the opportunity to do this real-world scenario,” Suggs said.
Horchak reiterated that “this is one of the evolutions where we get as close as we can” to real life disasters. “We’re lucky to get some real-world participation from the (United States Agency for International Development) and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance,” he added.
Students will be presented with sets of problems, which will include flying in security forces and MEDCAP; providing aid to refugees and internally displaced persons; providing casualty evacuation support; providing on-call security reinforcements; and successfully handling a mass casualty situation.
The hub of activity will be Kiwanis Park, which is located at the corner of 8th Street and Magnolia Avenue, with activity also taking place at Centennial and Crane middle schools and Yuma Regional Medical Center. However, Horchak stressed, the exercise will not interfere with actual emergency landings at YRMC.
The exercise will involve more than 30 aircraft, four in and around Yuma, specifically two UH-1Y Hueys and two CH-53 Super Stallions, during a flight window of 4-10:30 p.m.
Aircraft will strictly adhere to all FAA regulations, such as flying a minimum of 500 feet above ground level over the city except during takeoff and landing. Pilots will also be in constant communication with air traffic control.
On the ground, Marine security forces will control crowds with loudspeakers on Humvees at Kiwanis Park. Marine Expeditionary Firefighting and Rescue personnel will be at key locations as well as Yuma and military police.
Both Marines and civilians will take on the role of refugees and displaced persons, who will range from being displeased to happy to see the Marines there. The students will be “working face-to-face with these people under duress,” Horchak said.
Representatives from the USAID and OFDA on and off will unload emergency supplies into Kiwanis Park. Medical Civil Action Program representatives will set up two to four trauma lanes, where role players with simulated wounds will be treated.
The situation will deteriorate, continually going from bad to worse. After a gas explosion in the city, aircraft will fly in and out multiple times to bring aid to the “victims,” some suffering from burns. Then there will be a request to pick up multiple cases of measles at Crane and Centennial.
The Marines have pledged to take care of the park and the training grounds around the city. At each location will be a site commander from 30 minutes prior to start; the commander will stay until well after the exercise to ensure each site is clean prior to departure.
To protect the grass at Kiwanis Park, drip pans will be placed beneath forklifts and vehicle movement will be limited. No ordnance will be carried on any aircraft or personnel.
“The best part, spectators are encouraged,” Horchak said. “We’re never disappointed with how many people come out.” He added: “If you and your family want to come out and participate, we just ask that you listen to the instructions.”
Role players will be in civilian clothes and wearing reflective belts.
Citizens wanting to participate in the exercise should show up between 4-4:30 p.m. For spectators, the exercise is at its most “hot and heavy” between 5-8 p.m.
Horchak expressed appreciation to the city for allowing the twice-a-year exercise, including multiple flights in and out of the city, at a park, two middle schools and a real medical facility.
Mayor Doug Nicholls noted that the city also views the exercise as important. “Not everyone gets to see it each and every time,” he said.