Story by Cpl Jacob Pruitt on 04/17/2019The small unmanned aircraft circled overhead before buzzing its way down the range. A young Marine stares down her sights. The tension seemed to build as everyone waited in silence. She had one shot at taking down her target. For a while, the only sound to be heard was the buzzing of the aircraft propellers approaching overhead. Then, with a brief thunderous roar, dust engulfed the Marine as a trail of smoke chased the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) like a falcon speeding towards its prey.
A ball of flame and smoke fell from the sky as cheers and applause rang out. The dust settles as Cpl. Lovelia Hutchings walks away from the firing line with her FIM-92 Stinger slung triumphantly over her shoulder, a hint of a smile showing on her face. She throws up a peace sign, for her, this is just another day at the office.
This was the case for many Marines with the 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) Battalion, Marine Air Control Group (MACG) 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. They were all training to ensure they were ready for combat. This was the goal of the Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 3-19 at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, April 13, 2019.
Exercises like ITX create challenging, realistic training environments that produce combat-ready forces capable of operating as an integrated Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF).
"ITX is where the MAGTF comes together," said Col. Jeff Vandaveer, commanding officer of MACG-38. "3rd LAAD and MACG-38's role in this is to provide command and control and allow the ground combat element and aviation combat element to come together to defeat an enemy without fear of aviation opposition."
3rd LAAD is responsible for providing surface-to-air weapons fire to defend Marines from aerial threats.
"This type of training is crucial for myself and my Marines," said Cpl. Taylor Torrey, a team leader for 3rd LAAD. "We provide surface-to-air defense so that the rest of the MAGTF can complete their objectives without worrying about threats from the sky.
This exercise is one of many the Marines of 3rd LAAD use to provide realistic training, and it is critical for sustaining individual and unit readiness.
"This training is a perfect opportunity to train our Marines on how to do their jobs in a real-world scenario," said Vandaveer. "It also shows the Marines how their job would work operating inside an integrated MAGTF."
3rd LAAD will continue to hone their abilities in order to defend their fellow Marines.
"I love what I do," said Hutchings. "I could be at home sitting on the couch, but I'm here, in the desert shooting stinger missiles. It's a good feeling knowing what you do matters."
With the ability to destroy enemy aircraft from locations behind enemy lines, 3rd LAAD is a key part of 3rd MAW and will continue to train and prepare for I Marine Expeditionary Forces's global expeditionary operations.