Beaufort News

Exercise spanning several states tests Beaufort Marines

An F-18 Hornet squadron and other units from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort participated in a massive military readiness drill this week that spanned several East Coast states.

Dubbed "Exercise Mailed Fist," the drill tested the combat-readiness of all units that comprise the Corps' 2nd Aircraft Wing, as well as some Navy and Air Force units. Based at MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., 2nd MAW oversees all of the F-18 Hornet squadrons based at MCAS Beaufort.

As part of the drill, about 200 Beaufort Marines set up and operated an expeditionary airfield Thursday at a small regional airport in Vidalia, Ga., said Lt. Sharon Hyland, air station spokeswoman.

There, they practiced landing aircraft such as the F-18, MV-22 Osprey and the EA-6B Prowler on the short, remote airstrip, she said.

"We set up a smaller runway, and it almost simulates the deck of an aircraft carrier," Hyland said. "(Air station air traffic controllers) didn't use the normal tower at the airport. ... They had a tower that they literally hand-cranked. This simulated Afghanistan as much as we possibly could. We train as we fight. There's no point in us practicing something we're not going to do in real life."

The 11-day drill is expected to end today and includes training exercises in states from Virginia to Florida.

Hyland said the drill is the first such exercise on the East Coast in more than a decade but isn't likely to be the last.

"Typically, a lot of these exercises are done on the West Coast, but now that things are starting to settle down, we're able to plan for these large-scale exercises and execute them," Hyland said. "The intent is to execute at least one or two of these every year.

"Hopefully we'll see another one of these in six months where the Marines will get to do something similar ... and train closer to home."