Here’s why Marine pilots get trained as infantrymen before they ever leave the ground

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Marine pilot
Marine
Capt. David Miller during an air-assault training event at Marine
Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan, October 31,
2017


US Marine
Corps


OKINAWA, Japan — US Marine Corps pilots are trained to
operate advanced aircraft in often dangerous situations.

These pilots are the only aviators in the US military who are
taught the basics of infantry tactics prior to flight school.

This ensures every Marine is a rifleman. Though the chances of an
aviator leading a platoon of infantry Marines are slim to none,
there are cases where pilots are embedded in infantry units.

Capt. David “Tuck” Miller, a CH-53 Super Stallion pilot, is one
of those pilots. Miller, a native of Queenstown, Maryland, is a
Forward Air Controller with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment,
“Lava Dogs.” 

“As a CH-53 pilot, I always have the opportunity to transport
grunts in the back of my aircraft so this is just one more way
where I can work closely with them and support them,” said
Miller. 

As the FAC, Miller is in charge of directing close air support
and other offensive air operations. FACs are pilots who are
tasked out from the aviation field to directly support ground
combat units.

The FACs are typically senior aviators who have spent at least
two years in a fleet squadron, according to Miller.


USMC crew chief
US
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Servando Avila, a crew chief with Marine
Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, during a Tactical Air
Control Party off the coast of Okinawa, February 9,
2017.


US Marine
Corps


The prospects are sent to Tactical Air Control Party School to
learn the fundamentals of close air support and how to call for
fire. This allows the pilot to be a valuable asset when finally
attached to an infantry unit.

“He speaks from the air side of the house and he knows what the
pilots are saying and what they are looking for from us infantry
guys, so he’s able to bridge that gap between the two
communities,” said 1st Lt. Harry Walker, the fire support team
leader. 

Once the pilots touch base with the infantry units, they are
indoctrinated into a completely different culture for almost two
years. 

“Coming from the air wing and going head first into an infantry
battalion, it’s a little bit of a culture shock just because you
do have all those hikes and spend a lot time in the field,” said
Miller.

“After I graduated from [The Basic School], I don’t think I spent
one night in the field and then the first night I was out with
the battalion I slept under the stars, but it’s still good to be
here.”


Marine jet pilot
Cpl.
Tyler Summ, a fixed-wing-aircraft mechanic deployed as part of
Operation Inherent Resolve and assigned to Marine Attack Squadron
231, speaks with an AV-8B Harrier pilot after a flight, March 2,
2017.


US Marine
Corps


The FAC billet is a not only beneficial for the infantry units
but also great for the pilot executing the position, according to
Miller. 

“For them it’s all about the mission,” said Miller. “So as an
aviator, it pushes me to be more studious and when I get back to
the cockpit, I’ll be a better aviator.”

The Lava Dogs are currently forward-deployed for six months to
Okinawa, Japan as part of the Unit Deployment Program. The
battalion is tasked to provide a forward-deployed combat ready
unit for in support of theater requirements.

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