Korean Marine Exchange Program Begins

Marines with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, communicate with pilots of an F/A-18 Hornet before take-off during the Korean Marine Exchange Program 14-13, Oct. 13, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Antonio Rubio)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea -- Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, also known as the “Hawks,” launched their first aircraft during the Korean Marine Exchange Program 14-13, Oct. 13, 2014, on Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea.  

The program’s goals is to increase the combat readiness of Marine Aircraft Group 12, improve its operating skills as a Marine Air-Ground Task Force and enhance joint and combined integration with the U.S. Air Force and ROK Marine Corps.

The “Hawks” are stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., but are part of the unit deployment program to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, under MAG-12, 1st Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. 

KMEP 14-13 is a multinational exercise that focuses on the integration of aviation and ground assets within the construct of a traditional Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise. Supporting assets include, but are not limited to, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 and Marine Wing Support Squadron 171.

“I got to take part in the first event; launching to do close air support for the Marines on the ground,” said Capt. Ernie Drake, a weapon systems officer with VMFA(AW)-533. “We’re training joint tactical air controllers by flying overhead and doing simulated bombing runs in close proximity.”

Drake said JTAC Marines exercise their tactics, techniques and procedures in accordance with their standard operating procedures as they communicate to aircraft over head in order to locate specific targets and drop ordnance in an efficient manner. 

“We’re handling the targeting pod and we communicate to JTACS on the ground, who are controlling our fires,” said Drake. “JTACS not only control strikes from the air, but there are also mortarmen on the ground they talk to. They control when those guys are firing to prevent friendly fire.”

Lance Cpl. Justin Murray, a powerline mechanic with VMFA(AW)-533, may not be a JTAC, but, he also communicates to pilots and ensures aircraft are able to function properly while conducting simulated flights. 

“It’s all communication between me and the pilots,” said Murray. “I make sure these aircraft are able to take-off, I check all the flight control surfaces and ensure everything is properly functioning so there are no problems mid-flight. It’s all hands on training and looking for anything that could jeopardize our pilots or the mission.”

With the completion of the first flight, Drake said there is more training to be done and is looking forward to working with ROK and Air Force counterparts.

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