JUNE 10, 2016, BRIDGEPORT, Calif. – Capt. Jason Grimes, an AH-1Z Cobra pilot with Marine Light Attack Squadron 369 and a Hibbing, Minnesota native, is the first pilot to complete the two-month Aviator Immersion Program in Bridgeport, California.
As part of the program, Marine Aircraft Group 39 sends pilots to Bridgeport to train alongside infantry battalions so they may gain a better understanding of the unit’s operation.
“The end state is to have a closer integration between the [Marine Air Ground Task Force], in particular with the aviation combat element and the ground combat element,” said Col. Michael Borgshulte, the commanding officer of MAG-39. “One of the ways we get to that end state is through four lines of effort.”
Borgshulte emphasized that the number one priority is to partner MAG-39 units with GCE units and conduct professional military education and training in order to build lasting relationships that would lead to more symbiotic training evolutions.
“The second line of effort would be what I’m calling the Aviator Immersion Program, so what I’ll do is take the pilots, and I’ll put them with normally a battalion for 45 to 60 days to get a better appreciation of what the GCE is doing,” said Borgshulte. “The third line of effort is a medium scale exercise, and [this involves us] using the synergy of all the aviation assets and ground assets in a grass root-led exercise, whether it be a [tactic recovery of aircraft and personnel] package [or some other contingency mission].”
Lastly, Borgshulte explained the fourth line of effort is the simulation portion, linking simulators between Marine Corps Air Stations Miramar, Yuma and Camp Pendleton. Following that, GCE Marines fill requirements in joint tactical air control, the fire support coordination center and the Marine Air Control Squadron’s command and control system.
As part of the AIP, Grimes filled the role of the air officer for three different training evolutions during his time with the infantry battalions.
He worked with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, during a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation, which helped the Marines improve combat readiness and prepare for combat scenarios. He also trained with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, in Mountain Warfare, which taught Marines mountain climate survival and assault climber techniques, and a Fire Support Coordination Exercise, which gave Marines the training they needed to effectively call in artillery or air support.
“The main point of this program is to get more pilots over to the infantry units so they can have a better understanding of how they operate on a company or battalion level, and they can build relationships with the company and platoon commanders,” said Grimes.
According to Grimes, it’s paramount to correspond effectively between the air and ground combat elements.
“As a Cobra pilot, my goal is to support those Marines on the ground,” said Grimes. “If all my training to support them is so disconnected that I never communicate or work with them, I think that kind of fails the whole [Marine Air Ground Task Force] idea.”
From Grimes’ observation, working so close with a ground unit was unlike working with his air unit.
“There is a different mindset,” said Grimes. “The concerns of a battalion are going to be different than the concerns of the air unit as far as a threat goes. It was a great experience to see how the ground unit thinks through a situation and being able to explain to them how we might think through a situation on the air side.”