The Marine Corps grabbed international attention on March 22, 2011, when Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit recovered a downed Air Force pilot conducting missions over Libya.
Today, as the global commitment to Operation Inherent Resolve increases, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command’s Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel force continues the Corps’ tradition as an expeditionary crisis-response force capable of recovering downed pilots and aircraft.
“Aside from traditional grunts, the TRAP force includes Crash Fire Rescue, EOD and signals intelligence,” said Capt. William T. Kerrigan, commanding officer, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, SPMAGTF-CR-CC. “EOD Marines provide the ability to explosively render sensitive equipment unusable, signals intelligence gives us the capability to better locate the position of the downed pilot, and Crash Fire Rescue allows us to quickly remove equipment and pilots through the use of specialized extraction tools.”
Drawing skills from across the command allows SPMAGTF-CR-CC to tailor the force’s size and capabilities to better respond to specific missions. It also creates the need for constant training and rehearsals to ensure that the team remains prepared.
“In conjunction with [Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 363] we conduct at least four full mission rehearsals each day,” said Kerrigan. “It is not just the ground maneuver elements, but pilots must be involved. We conduct the preparations to board the bird, simulate strapping in and placing gear for the flight, and exiting and locating the pilot.”
The internal preparation reduces the time it takes for the force to board the MV-22B Ospreys used to transport the Marines to the downed aircraft. Once aboard, the Ospreys from VMM 363 provide the reach and speed needed to respond to locations across Iraq and Syria.
“The Osprey provides longer range and time on station,” said Kerrigan. “We are able to fly farther and faster than any other platform. We can quickly land in zone and then take off quicker than most aircraft.”
This speed allows the force to reach aircrew more quickly than traditional helicopters and reduce the time in which coalition personnel remain in danger on the ground.
Ultimately, SPMAGTF-CR-CC’s combination of aircraft, pilots, and TRAP force personnel provide aircrews supporting OIR with an exceptional personnel recovery capability.
“The possibility of being employed has given the Marines the ability to understand the reality of their mission,” said Kerrigan. “It’s easy to get complacent, but they understand that at any moment they could go any place in the [area of operations] to recover a downed pilot.”