Story by Sgt Jesus Sepulveda Torres on 08/02/2018MARINE CORPS AIR STATION KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (July 24, 2018) Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, is the largest international maritime exercise consisting of 25 countries, that takes place here in Hawaii and Southern California. RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security of the world's oceans.
Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Kaneohe Bay, located on Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), plays a crucial role in the exercise. It provides a vital logistical hub for aircraft operations. Multiple aircraft from participating nations are consistently rotating between the air station and around the Hawaiian Islands. The air station is also used as a notional carrier during the simulating training events.
Mark Patton, the assistant air field manager for MCAS Kaneohe Bay, said RIMPAC took months of planning and construction for runway projects had to be slowed to accommodate the oncoming aircraft.
"We have multiple projects that are being constructed on the air field, major projects completed were the two MV-22 Osprey squadron hangars," Patton said. "Hangars haven't been built since the 1940s so it was a critical step in the right direction for where we want to be as a premier air hub."
MCAS Kaneohe Bay is an all-around air station that's home to Marine Aircraft Group 24, which has platforms such as the new U.S. Marine Corps AH-1Z Viper helicopters, replacing the older AH-1 Cobras, and the second squadron of MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft taking their place in the newest hangar built aboard the installation.
Besides the two hangars, he said there were other side projects to improve the efficiency of the air field to accommodate future aircraft.
"A huge upgrade to our taxiway is the tons of tarmac removed to be replaced by cement to hold the weight of larger platforms such as the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft," Patton said. "There is also a plan to update the runway lights to be longer lasting and save power and a large wash rack system to help prevent corrosion of these multi-million dollar platforms."
Prior to RIMPAC, airfield staff and crews worked normal hours with some time off, but since the start of the exercise it has been an around the clock rotation to meet the demands, Patton said.
Gunnery Sgt. David Diaz, the training chief for MCAS Kaneohe Bay, said air traffic controllers (ATC) with MCAS Kaneohe Bay are working hard to keep safety in the skies and on the ground.
"The Marines are trained to provide the best air field services to our pilots and ground crews, as well as the other nations on the air station," Diaz said. "The main issue we have is overcoming the language barrier, but our guys are well versed in communicating clearly and reassuring the pilots we understand the requests."
He said the air field isn't very busy prior to RIMPAC which then provides an opportunity to provide a more tactical environment for the Marines.
"Normally they aren't used to such a high traffic of aircraft in such a short time," Diaz said. "As the exercise progressed, they learned to adapt to the high tempo of communications. With Marines officially replacing the Navy personnel here last September, this was a perfect challenge to surpass their training and gain unique experience."
He said this was his second RIMPAC and it's been much busier than the last one with additional aircraft and heavy workloads, but the air station continues to push through while only getting positive feedback from the squadrons.
Patton said the squadrons from the other nations, as well as peers from other branches have expressed their appreciation for the air station as a whole with the service and communication it has provided.
"They love our air field and are very happy to be staying here," he said. "They're treated like rock stars, both the foreign militaries and rotating U.S. forces."
RIMPAC 2018 also coincided with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit's pre-deployment training program in which they conducted training aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii and Marine Corps Training Area Bellows. This was the first time that the installation hosted two Marine Air-Ground Task Forces simultaneously. All participants were able to take advantage of Marine Corps Base Hawaii's airfield landing zones, amphibious, littoral, and Military Operations on Urban Terrain training areas and capabilities.