Seventeen giant military transport planes will be taking off and landing around the clock this weekend at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station during a joint Air Force and Marine combat readiness exercise.
More than 300 Marines and 100 Air Force personnel are spending 15 days practicing how to disassemble and pack a sampling of all of the equipment and supplies needed to go to war. The gear must be broken down to fit into the transport planes which will fly to McChord Air Force Base in Washington state. There the gear will be unpacked, reloaded and returned.
The purpose of this "strategic mobilization exercise," military officials say, is to practice getting ready to go to war. The exercise started on April 15 and will end April 30. Four days of 24-hour operations began Friday at El Toro.
The equipment involved includes Marine combat and cargo helicopters: CH-46E Sea Knights, AH-1W Super Cobras, UH-1N Hueys and CH-53 Sea Stallions.
The only plane large enough to carry the helicopters is the C-5A Galaxy, "the largest operational aircraft in the free world," said Air Force Lt. Col. Gary Hoffman. "There's enough room in it to put six Greyhound buses."
Seven such planes are in the exercise, along with 10 smaller C-141 Starlifter transport aircraft.
"The main goal is to exercise our ability to load (aircraft and equipment) for the 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade," said Marine Lt. Col Mack Luckie. Although the amphibious brigade is headquartered in Twentynine Palms, its air combat unit--the 70th Marine Aircraft Group--has its home at El Toro.