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Death From Above

Corps’ premiere air-controllers back with 11th MEU

FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. — After years of estrangement from Marine expeditionary units, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company personnel, or Anglico, the Corp’s air controllers, are once again back with the 11th MEU to do what they do best: Bring death from above.

Staff Sgt. Don Morrissey and Cpl. Scott Romeo scout the area outside a CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter for targets

Staff Sgt. Don Morrissey (left) and Cpl. Scott Romeo, crew chiefs with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), scout the area outside a CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter for targets as part of aerial gunnery training during the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Marine Air Ground Task Force Exercise.

In constant operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Anglico Marines and sailors have been engaged in coordinating close-air support and indirect fire.

MEU leaders requested a detachment from 1st Anglico to deploy with them. Subsequently, when the 11th MEU deploys later this year, it is the first of the three West Coast MEUs in several years to take such a detachment, said Lt. Col. Robert C. Rice, 11th MEU operations officer.

Anglico personnel are highly specialized at directing and controlling air support, not only from U.S. aircraft, but allied aircraft as well.

“Anglico is a phenomenal asset,” said Maj. Brent Johnson, the MEU’s air officer. “They’ll provide a greater capability. Operationally, we can provide better air support with Anglico personnel.”

Over the past several years, Anglico units have been very air-centric; that is, their focus has been on calling in aircraft instead of naval guns and artillery to destroy enemy targets.

Marines take turns firing a .50 caliber heavy machine gun from a CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter.

Marines with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), take turns firing a .50 caliber heavy machine gun from a CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter.

Even though some systems are not widely used, Anglico personnel are proficient in all aspects of fire, including mortars, artillery and naval gunfire, said Capt. Robert Suarez, the officer in charge of the MEU’s supporting-arms liaison team, or SALT.

Though small in number, the MEU’s Anglico detachment has as much air controlling capability as an entire infantry battalion, said Suarez.

The MEU’s Anglico complement consists of 18 members. Three officers serve as joint-terminal attack controllers, or JTACs, and are the only ones certified to authorize fire missions. Two fire control teams consisting of five Marines each set up observation posts and engage enemy targets. Overseeing the FCTs and operating as a fire support coordination center is the SALT.

Even though combat operations are Anglico’s bread and butter, they bring greater capabilities to training as well.

“We provide the MEU commander with the capability to plug into any allied unit operating in theater,” Suarez said. “But if we do bilateral training, we have the ability to coordinate with them too.”

With all the contingencies a MEU faces, having an Anglico detachment with a catchy motto means one thing: No matter where they go, “Lightning from the sky, thunder from the sea,” is only a call away.

Flexing the muscle

A detachment of Anglico Marines lit up the Stony Valley range during close-air support training.

The detachment trained to keep current in the ever-evolving ways of commanding and controlling aircraft to destroy enemy targets, and protect friendly forces.

On the battlefield, joint terminal-attack controllers, also called forward-air controllers, direct and control air support. These controllers must know aircraft, new and old, and the ordnance they drop.

As the MEU’s air officer, Johnson is responsible for making sure the unit’s major subordinate elements get air support to accomplish their missions.

“I’m out here for the practice and to keep my (qualifications) up,” said Johnson.

Even though Johnson is a schooled, certified forward air controller, ordnance and aircraft are constantly improving. And so must a controller’s knowledge.

“As a (forward air controller), you have to be prepared for anything,” Johnson said. “You might get different (support) on station, and you must be ready to talk them on to the target.”

The detachment’s primary function is calling in air support, which makes communication critical to telling pilots where to drop bombs.

Sgt. Mark Garside, a radio operator and Detroit native, is one of the Marines responsible for getting communication quickly up and running.

The Marines set up equipment to talk to MEU headquarters, the aircraft flying to the range, range control and those controlling the air for the base.

Each member of the relatively small detachment learns each other’s job.

“We learn how to control,” said Garside. “It’s more beneficial to the team, and it makes us better as a whole.”

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  • Doug G

    These guys are great. I saw them a few times in Iraq working with a Seal Team and some Iraqis.