Marine Corps pilots are getting a chance to see how the ground-pounders live in a new immersive program designed to bring the air and ground elements of the Corps’ fighting machine closer for better collaboration.

Called the aviator immersion program, the initiative aims to have one pilot from each squadron within Camp Pendleton, California’s Marine Aircraft Group 39 “embedded” with an infantry battalion at any given time. This month, the officials announced that Capt. Jason Grimes had become the first Marine pilot to complete the program after spending two months in training with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, also out of Pendleton.

The idea for the program originated with Col. Michael Borgschulte, commanding officer of MAG-39. It echoes thinking by previous Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford and the current commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, who have both discussed their desire to see ground combat units coordinate more closely with air elements and take better advantage of the benefits of cutting-edge aviation platforms such at the MV-22B Osprey and the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.

“We’re nowhere near capable of fully realizing or leveraging the kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities of [the F-35],” Dunford told a Marine audience in May 2015.

Grimes, an AH-1Z Cobra pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, said he spent his two months on the ground with 2/5 observing, learning, and acting as an informal forward air controller with the unit. He spent 19 days participating in grueling field training at the Marines’ Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California, and another 11 days in Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation and Fire Support Coordination exercises.


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