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Pilots Can Grunt Too

Pilots Can Grunt Too

U.S. Marine Corps pilots are trained to operate advanced aircraft in often dangerous situations. These pilots are the only aviators in the U.S. 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. 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.”

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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Ken Mongar - June 1, 2020

I was with “L” Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in Vietnam in 1968. My MOS was 2532, Radio Relay Operator, I came over with a number of Radio Relay Operators, but the battalion had no Radio Relay gear. The outgoing “28”, or TACP, “Tactical Air Control Party”, Chief, trained me to replace him when he returned to “The World”, in March/April of ’68. The only FAC, or Forward Air Controller, I knew was the O2 pilot. We used O2s because we only had AM gear on the ground, and the jets had FM radios. THe O2 would relay our wishes to the jets, and they would send messages back to me via the FAC, I guess other units may have had an officer on the ground as a FAC, but our unit only had “28s”, and the O2, FAC, in the air.

Sgt T.K. Shimono (1959-1968) - June 1, 2020

During 1960-61, we had three Marine pilots training with our battalion as FAC on Okinawa and other areas. They were great and taught us grunts how to properly call in air strikes. A great bunch of Marine Officers. Semper Fi.

Curtis W Wirt - June 1, 2020

Lt. Brooks ” Vicking”. You were my 14 actual while I was with 2/5 tacp in Anhua. I remember drinking my first taste of champagne out of a canteen cup with you and Lt Lands.

Sgt. Isaac Thomas - June 1, 2020

During my tour of duty with C 1/1 as a FAC (14 operator ) I had the pleasure to work with one of the best air officers ever. Capt. Lief Erickson,I hope I spelled the first name correct. After Capt. Erickson’s tour as air officer he became the company commander for three months and was an excellent skipper. This was during about-June-July of 1969. Sgt Isaac Thomas (Cpl. Thomas at the time. Does anyone remember him.

Michael Sperry - June 1, 2020

Another (important) issueis that, if necessary in a combat situation, the FAC is qualitified to assume command of the infantry platoon or company. The OCS-Basic School training, that all USMC officers complete, is designed with this possibility in mind. PPPPPPP!

John Brooks - June 1, 2020

I was an F4 fighter pilot in Vietnam wit 210 combat missions! I also served as a FAC with 2/5 at Anhau for three months. The Marine air/ ground team is the very best. I could talk pilot talk when I called in choppers or air strikes, but I knew what the grunts wanted and needed too! No wonder Marines scare he hell out of the enemy! Semper Fi to all! From one proud Marine! Call Sign “Viking”

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