Marines train at Mountain Home AFB

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
The training exercise at Mountain Home Air Force Base comes just 14 months after Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 made the transition to the MV-22 Osprey -- a hybrid airframe that's both an aircraft and helicopter. The squadron brought eight of its 10 aircraft to Mountain Home along with 180 troops. Photo by Brian S. Orban

One of the U.S. military's newest aircraft made its debut over southern Idaho this month as part of a training exercise at Mountain Home Air Force Base.

Aircrews and maintenance teams from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Calif., flew missions from the base as part of a scheduled deployment here.

The exercise comes just 14 months after Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 made the transition to the MV-22 Osprey -- a hybrid airframe that's both an aircraft and helicopter. The squadron brought eight of its 10 aircraft to Mountain Home along with 180 troops.

Marine Capt. Andy Brayton highlights the features of the MV-22 Osprey to Mayor Tom Rist, right, and Billie Ritchie, the governor's military liaison. Photo by Brian S. Orban

Training from the local Air Force base represents an "unbelievable opportunity" for the Miramar unit, said Marine Lt. Col. Michael A. Boorstein, commanding officer with the tiltrotor squadron. Southern Idaho's high desert climate, mountainous terrain and electronic warfare capabilities made the base "an ideal place to train," he added.

"The Marines are very excited to train in this environment," Boorstein said.

Many of their missions involved flights over the Mountain Home Range Complex south of the city. Others required the Osprey crews to fly to designated landing strips at higher altitudes in the Sawtooth Forest. These mountain missions allowed the Marine unit to practice the same skills they'll need when flying into rugged terrain when they deploy to Afghanistan.

Southern Idaho's mountainous terrain and desert climate "is giving our guys a really good workout that's not available at Miramar," Boorstein said. "This is something we need to train for."

In addition, the Air Force base here is home to one of the nation's largest collection of threat emiters -- a network of mobile and stationary sites that can replicate air defense capabilities used by countries around the world.

"It's a very comprehensive capability that's almost as good as it gets" compared to actual combat, the colonel said.

Best of all, that intensive training opportunity is just a five-minute flight from the base.

In comparison, the Marine aircrews face a 20- to 30-minute flight to reach their training ranges outside of San Diego.

While this current training exercise doesn't include time for Marines and their Air Force counterparts to fly missions together, it does "paint a picture on how everything fits together in a combat situation," said Air Force Lt. Col. Al Kastner, 366th Fighter Wing director of staff. In addition, Marines and airmen have a chance to learn the lingo unique to their respective military branches, "so when we're in combat it's not the first time we've heard it," he added.

Mountain Home Air Force Base continues to gain a reputation among U.S. and foreign military organizations as the ideal place to conduct intensive, realistic training, according to Air Force officials.

The range complex south of Mountain Home represents an "incredible resource" that provides unparalleled training in air-to-air fighter combat, close-air support missions and more, Kastner said.

"There's more than enough space to go around, he added.

Able to refuel in flight, the MV-22 tiltrotor aircraft has greater range and flies faster than other helicopters in the Marine Corps' inventory, said Marine Sgt. Stephanie Litrell, a crew chief with the Osprey squadron.

"It does just as well as any other aircraft in combat," added Marine Sgt. Christopher Miller, who has served as a helicopter crew chief the past five years. The Osprey's unique design allows it to fly higher than other rotary wing aircraft with the added plus of landing in places fixed wing aircraft wouldn't dare attempt, the Houston native said.

Capable of carrying 24 combat-ready Marines, the Osprey can land troops on the ground or get them to the fight by having them parachute from higher altitudes or having them rappel down a rope dropped from the rear cargo door or through a hatch in the bottom of the aircraft.

Although its wingspan is longer than standard helicopters, it's still compact enough to operate from Navy amphibious assault ships as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit, Miller said.

Despite some initial technical issues during their transition to the next-generation aircraft, the tiltrotor squadron's aircrews and maintenance teams gave the MV-22 a solid thumb's up.

"The more I've flown, the more confident I feel," said Marine 1st Lt. Blake Fisher, who graduated from flight training in the Osprey earlier this year. "It's increased maneuverability does exactly what you want it to do."

"For me, it's a dream job," said Miller, who joined the Marine Corps with a lifelong passion for aircraft.

Having the opportunity to fly convinced Litrell to retrain into the aircraft maintenance field more than a year ago. The Marine then spent 11 months learning the finer points of maintaining the Marines' multi-role aircraft before she earned her initial certification.

"I'm not a big 'desk' person," said Litrell, who previously served as an administrative specialist. "I enjoy it; I love flying."

While the Osprey still have some limitations on where it can land, it brings with it an unlimited amount of potential that allows it to accomplish any mission thrown its way, Fisher said.

"The possibilities are endless," the lieutenant added.

Editor's note: This and other stories affecting military members, local veterans and retirees and their families are available free in the Mountain Home Patriot, a publication produced each Friday by the Mountain Home News. Copies of the newspaper are available from different merchants in town and in various offices and facilities at the base.

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  • Yep and the Navy starts training here the 1st.

    -- Posted by Momof 2graduates on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 12:40 PM
  • *

    Those Marines are awsome more respectful than some of the airman I deal with.

    -- Posted by shockwave on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 4:55 PM
  • They are but boy they work hard and play even harder. Liked having them on base change of pace.

    -- Posted by Momof 2graduates on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 10:24 PM
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