MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif.- -- As units come to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center to participate in one of ten Combined-Arms Exercises held each year, most of them bring aircraft along. Hosting these aircraft are the Marines assigned to the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field. The runway is 8,000 feet long, and 150 feet wide, making it the largest expeditionary airfield operated by the Marine Corps. The runways, taxi areas and aircraft staging areas are made up of 3.4 million square feet of non-skid aluminum matting.
"We are the only Marine Wing Support Squadron with a fully functioning Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field, or SELF," said Capt. Charles "Troll" Sasser, commanding officer of Airfield Company. "Our main purpose is to support the CAX program."
Sasser, whose secondary job is an AH-1W "Super Cobra" helicopter pilot added that in addition to supporting CAX, they support exercise and normal training evolutions for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Marine Air Wings.
"The Army, Navy and Air Force have all used our facilities, even the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization has used our runway," he said.
Because the aluminum matting expands with heat and is constantly shifting, as well as the normal wear from aircraft, it must be maintained on a regular basis. Five repair projects are scheduled each year. Each project lasts two to three weeks and is planned around CAX. The projects cost between 30 and 40 thousand dollars, with a total of 750,000 square feet of matting replaced annually. The projects are labor intensive and usually require the involvement of 60 to 70 Marines, with surges involving up to 400 Marines.
The current project includes building two new ramps. One is fixed-wing and one is rotary. The fixed-wing ramp was started in November 2001 and the construction of the new rotary ramp started in May 2002. The 800,900 square foot rotary ramp will be relocated on the north side of the runway. An improved fuel facility and new hangars for visiting squadrons are also being added at this time.
In 2002 alone, with the EAF operating every day except Christmas, they were open 3,098 hours, usually working 14 hours a day. The 201 permanent personnel supported 15,570 regular flight operations, witnessed 54 arrested landings, pumped almost four million gallons of jet fuel, hosted 86 VIP flights and successfully handled 17 aircraft emergencies.
The full-service weather facility and fuels section operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting and Explosive Ordinance Disposal staff are employed around the clock in support of CAX.
Sasser, his voice beaming with pride, spoke endlessly about the dedication his Marines show to their jobs.
"They often work 14-hour days to support a 19-hour flight window, and the conditions out here are less than desirable," he said. "The remaining old buildings are being replaced, but for the time being, some of these Marines still work in buildings with no heads or running water. They come to work, and they know what they have to do and they do it. The continuing improvements being made at the SELF provide a tremendous boost to morale."
With the cancellation of recent CAX's, the EAF Marines are going to take the opportunity to get their annual training done and be prepared for whatever comes their way, according to Sasser.