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Japan-based units end Southern Frontier 2011

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ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE BASE TOWNSVILLE, Queensland, Australia — Japan-based Marine units brought their portion of Exercise Southern Frontier 2011 to an end here Aug. 15.

Southern Frontier is an annual bilateral exercise designed to test and enhance the Marine aerial units’ ability to provide close-air support to integrated Marine and Australian ground units. Participating Marine units are also given the opportunity to conduct intensive unit-level training during the yearly exercise.

Japan-based Marine units who participated in this year’s Southern Frontier included assets from Marine Aircraft Group 12 Headquarters, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12, Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, Marine Wing Communication Squadron 18, Marine Air Control Squadron 4 and 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company.

Approximately 400 Marines and sailors participated in this year’s exercise. Lt. Col. Brian Evans, VMFA - 314 executive officer, said he considered this year’s Southern Frontier very successful and the exercise provided many lessons for the participating squadrons.

“Our expeditionary nature and our ability to up-and-move to a detached location is something we need to continually exercise,” said Evans. “That lesson is continually learned every time, as well as our ability to interact and become a team with other units within the Marine Corps and in this case with another country’s military.”

The VMFA -314 Black Knights, which was trained as the aviation combat element during Southern Frontier, logged 210 sorties and a total of 295.9 flight hours in the air. During the exercise, the Black Knights trained in a variety of scenarios which cultivated their skills in armed reconnaissance support, air interdiction strikes, and strike in coordination and reconnaissance missions.

Evans said all the skills they trained during the exercise were like their bread and butter and exactly what they would use in a real-world scenario.

“These are all important skills, and if you don’t exercise them regularly, they will deteriorate,” said Evans. “These skills are being used (in Afghanistan) daily.”

The Black Knights also successfully launched 30 sorties with 11 F/A-18 Hornets in one day to provide close-air support to integrated Marine and Australian 4th Regiment service members in support of Southern Frontier. Although Marines and their Australian counterparts successfully accomplished their goals, there were challenges to overcome along the way. Throughout the exercise, participating units learned how to adapt to different ways of speaking and different means of operation.

“There are nuances of differences between how the Aussies do business and how we do business,” said Evans. “To be able to identify those nuances in a training environment and then get to a common ground and understand where each unit and military is coming from and our procedures — what they actually mean and why we do them is good.”

Maj. Michael Lepore, VMFA-314 operations officer helped coordinate and create some of the training opportunities involved in Southern Frontier.

“It was a great exercise,” said Lepore. “Overall we met all of our training objectives and more. Same thing for the guys we worked with on the ground. They met their training objectives and more, which increased combat readiness on our side and on their side. It was awesome.”

Lepore said because of everything accomplished in support of the exercise, he believes the Black Knights and supporting units are now a lot more proficient at what they do.

For many participating service members, Southern Frontier provided them with new experiences, which they believe has made them better at what they do.

“I think everybody here can say– whether it’s a pilot or whether it’s a mechanic or (air traffic controllers)– anybody here can say they are better at their job after going through this and all the challenges that came up and all the hurtles that we, as an (air combat element), had to overcome,” said Capt. Adam Wellington, a VMFA -314 pilot. “It’s just improved everyone. I know, on a personal level, it’s made me a better pilot and I will be hard pressed to find a Marine out there who isn’t better at their job after going through this exercise.”

This year’s Southern Frontier started Aug. 1.

Article by Cpl. Claudio A. Martinez, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni