An estimated 500 members of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines from Camp Pendleton took part in live weapons training Jan. 21 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms.
Fire support teams and infantry rolled out at dawn a week ago in amphibious personnel carriers toting rifles, ammunition, explosives, body armor, food, water and everything else they take into real combat.
Capt. Aaron S. Mekolik, 31, of College Station, Texas, is the forward air controller for 2/4. He is an F-18 Marine pilot trained to work closely with fire support teams and aircraft during combat operations and exercises like those at Twentynine Palms.
His buddies in 2nd Battalion call him simply "the FAC."
"In my previous assignment I was a F18 pilot in VMFA(AW)-121 the Green Knights," Mekolik said in a recent email. "I have seen many of these training evolutions from the pilot's perspective as a close air support platform."
The Green Knights are an all-weather, carrier-based attack squadron, also qualified for night attacks.
"I had a basic understanding of what happened with the ground combat element but now I have a front row seat," Mekolik said. "As the forward air controller I am the coordination between the Marines fighting on the ground and the pilots dropping bombs from their aircraft. We coordinate attacks from all types of fighter jets, attack helicopters as well as coordinate assault support," including troop and cargo moving aircraft and helicopters.
"My previous experience as a pilot is a huge benefit as I know what the pilot's perspective is, I know what workload he is going though, I know what it looks like from his view so working together we can utilize some of our nation's most expensive assets, the aircraft, protect our nation's most valuable, the Marines on the ground," Mekolik said.
The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines last fought in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and returned in April 2012. Their numbers include young men in their teens and multi-deployment veterans with more than 20 years in the Marines. They call themselves "The Magnificent Bastards."
The 2nd Battalion is on several weeks training at the sprawling combat center, which covers more than 900 square miles of the Mojave Desert and most of the Bouillon Mountains, about 80 miles east of Redlands and Loma Linda in San Bernardino County.
"Our objective is to kill the enemy, and that's what we're training for here," Maj. Serge Morosoff, the 2nd Battalion's second-in-command, said inside a tented command compound before sunrise Jan. 21. "Today's live weapons exercise will include tanks and aircraft."
Morosoff invited Patch to the combat center in part to express his gratitude to the people of San Clemente, who adopted the Magnificent Bastards in the 1990s and staged a parade for the 2nd Battalion when they returned from Afghanistan in April.
"We appreciate the people of San Clemente and their support," Morosoff said. "There's a lot of military families there and retired Marines. I know some of our guys here miss the weather in San Clemente."
The San Clemente Chamber of Commerce and the City of San Clemente adopted the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines in July 1996, in support of the "America Supporting Americans" program, according to the chamber.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 4,400 members of the U.S. military have died in Iraq and more than 2,000 have died in the ongoing war in Afghanistan. According to a New York Times analysis of Department of Defense statistics, the Army has suffered more dead in Afghanistan, but the Marine Corps, with fewer troops, has had a higher casualty rate.
Other members of the who spoke to Patch last week said they come from towns and cities in Los Angeles County, Contra Costa County, Ohio, Mississippi, Florida and West Virginia.
Twentynine Palms is about 40 miles northeast of Palm Desert as the crow flies, and it is about 65 miles driving distance.
For more information about the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines visit www.1stmardiv.marines.mil.