JUNE 14, 2017, ARMED FORCES BASE COLD LAKE ALBERTA, Canada – Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 473, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve participated in exercise Maple Flag 50, May 24 to June 9, 2017.
Exercise Maple Flag is an international air combat exercise hosted annually since 1967 by the Royal Canadian Air Force at Armed Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta, Canada.
During Maple Flag, Marines with MWSS-473 conducted multiple simultaneous training evolutions providing ground support to partner nation aviation elements participating in the exercise. Operations included establishing multiple forward arming and refueling points, setting up a tactical water purification system and motor transportation support. MWSS-473 also augmented Canadian forces with crash fire rescue Marines, corpsmen, and with general logistical support to the RCAF and International NATO counterparts.
“The Marine Corps has been a huge support to Maple Flag, I honestly don’t know if we could run the exercise without the Marines,” said RCAF Maj. Christopher Horch, commanding officer, Air Force Tactical Training Centre, 4 Wing Cold Lake. “We rely on them for many of our augmentee positions. They provide great service to the Canadian Air Force.”
One of the squadron’s accomplishments while at the exercise was establishing a four-point static FARP, capable of refueling four aircraft simultaneously, providing real world refueling support to RCAF CH-147 Chinook and CH-146 Griffon type model series. On June 5, 2017, a RCAF Chinook airlifted a sling loaded helicopter expedient refueling system fuel pod to resupply fuel at the FARP site. This type of airlift and resupply was executed for the first time in the history of the exercise.
From the moment boots touched the ground, MWSS-473 integrated fully with base operations. The crash fire rescue Marines trained with Canadian firefighters from 4 Wing Cold Lake Fire Services in structural firefighting using live fire, search and rescue, hydraulic ventilation and automobile extrication. The Marines rotated shifts with the 4 Wing fire crews, spending nights at the station and responding to calls alongside their Canadian counterparts.
“I’ve worked with other military forces before, including the Royal Marines, and now with the Royal Canadian Air Force,” said Staff Sgt. John T. Richie, a crash fire rescue Marine with MWSS-473. “No matter where you go, firefighting is a brotherhood. Working with the Canadians has been a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Flexing their full range of capabilities as a support squadron, the Marines also established a tactical water purification system which drew water from Cold Lake and provided over 2,000 gallons of fresh drinking water to the FARP site in the first 24 hours of its launch. This was useful training to many Marines of MWSS-473’s utilities platoon who worked with the TWPS for the first time.
On June 6, 2017, Marines were visited by Lt. Gen. Rex C. McMillian, commander, Marine Forces Reserve, Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James, commanding general, 4th MAW, and several other MARFORRES and 4th MAW leaders. McMillian spoke to the Marines about training efficiently and being prepared to mobilize at a moment’s notice.
“You give the wing its maneuver element,” McMillian said. “Don’t waste a minute of your training, your drill weekends and every opportunity you have, because when we call you, the training is over.”
Marines of MWSS-473 are confident in their readiness.
“There’s a lot of preparation that goes into getting ready to mobilize,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brent Baca, the expeditionary fire and rescue staff non-commissioned officer in charge for MWSS-473. “Everything from medical and dental readiness to dry runs and equipment preparation. We cover everything so that by the time we get here, the Marines are competent and committed to the job.”
Marine Corps presence is heavy at AFB Cold Lake during Maple Flag. Marines from Marine Air Control Squadron 2 are currently still participating in the exercise and a small cadre of Marine Corps weapons and tactics instructor pilots spent almost three weeks advising the 4 Wing Cold Lake Advanced Tactical Aviation Course on how attack helicopters would integrate with fixed wing assets during assault operations.
Maple Flag is based on the United States Air Force’s Exercise Red Flag, a premier air-to-air combat training exercise held several times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The exercises were developed in response to observations made during the Vietnam War that the majority of aircraft losses would happen during an aircrew’s first 10 combat missions. To enhance the survivability and improve the performance of Canadian and allied aircrews, the training exercise provides them with their first 10 combat missions in a structured, academic setting.
Participating in large scale exercises among foreign militaries and in realistic environments, like at Maple Flag 50, ensures Marines maintain high levels of proficiency and readiness necessary for worldwide deployment.
“It’s a great opportunity for us and the Marines to train alongside international partners because we get to exchange tactics and procedures out in the field,” Horch said.
Maple flag 50 is scheduled to conclude June 23, 2017. The exercise has armed U.S. Forces and NATO partners with knowledge and confidence integrating with partner-nation militaries, preparing them to respond together in future contingencies and operations.
By Cpl. Gabrielle Quire, Marine Corps Forces Reserves