USS ESSEX, At sea --
No man left behind. This saying is drilled into every Marine’s head from the first day they enter recruit training, and upheld as they continue through their service to the Corps.
When a pilot gets shot down or has to eject from their aircraft, they count on the Marines and Sailors of the Tactical Recovery of Personnel and Aircraft force to uphold that saying.
To ensure they are ready to answer that call if it comes, Marines and Sailors with Company E, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted a mock TRAP mission, during the MEU’s certification exercise.
Trained to be ready in 30 minutes or less, the TRAP team left the USS Essex quickly, bound for Irisuna Jima, the island where a downed Air Force pilot was waiting for rescue.
“As we landed on Irisuna Jima Island, we exited the helicopter and set up security,” said Lance Cpl. Taylor W. Jasper, a team leader with Company E, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 31st MEU. “We found the pilot almost immediately; he was only about 60 meters from where we landed.”
Although the landing was unopposed, the Marines were expecting trouble during insertion. In the case of an opposed landing, the Marines had AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft standing by to provide close air support.
“We were told we were going into a hot landing zone,” said Jasper. “We went ready to take fire and still complete our mission.”
Although the team is prepared to take fire, they usually try to avoid making contact with the enemy. Engaging the enemy could cause unnecessary complications during the rescue mission.
“TRAP force is not a direct combat team,” said Jasper. “We don’t go in to engage the enemy, that’s not our mission. We will if we have to, but ideally we try to avoid contact.”
Upon discovering the downed pilot, Hospitalman Robert Bingham, a corpsman with Company E, began providing medical care to the injured pilot.
“He wasn’t injured too badly, and the terrain made it easy to get to him,” said Bingham. “I cared for him for about seven minutes before we had him on the stretcher and into the helicopter on the way out of there.”
Within 15 minutes of the Marines hitting the deck, they had found the downed pilot, stabilized his condition, and loaded him onto the helicopter, completing the TRAP mission.
“This was a graded exercise,” said Jasper. “Overall it went really smoothly, we didn’t take fire and we were done in just under 15 minutes.”
Although TRAP missions are rare, the skills required to conduct TRAP operations are practiced frequently by the MEU.
“We pray that it doesn’t happen, but if by chance a pilot did go down or have to ditch his plane than at least there is an element within the MEU that can go out and get them,” said Bingham.
It is because the Air Combat Element and BLT of the 31st MEU operate together so frequently, that the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU are always ready to act if called upon.
“The 31st MEU is extremely well suited to execute a TRAP mission for three reasons; our equipment, our training and our people,” said Lt. Col. Gary Roesti, the executive officer of the 31st MEU.
The 31st MEU possesses a wide array of air and ground vehicles that allow for rapid deployment from a land or sea-based platform to accomplish the mission.
Roesti went on to add that other military units can conduct TRAP missions. However, no other unit in the world, excluding the Marine Corps’ other numbered MEU’s, possesses the flexibility of the 31st MEU.
The 31st MEU is the nation’s only continually forward deployed MEU, and remains a force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.