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Army, Marines and Air Force train together on Fort Drum for the first time

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FORT DRUM — An Air Force member rode in an Army engineer convoy on a range Thursday and directed Marine Corps attack helicopters to hit moving targets with machine-gun fire.

It was part of close air support training the post was hosting this week — the first time the three services ever trained together on Fort Drum.

Soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors often work together in Afghanistan, but few get a chance to train that way, said Lt. Col. Alfred E. Tomaselli of the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Fighter Wing, Syracuse, who works full time at Fort Drum.

A main challenge to overcome in working with sister services is the language barrier.

“They have different names and acronyms for the exact same things; battle position for the Army is attack positions for the Marines,” he said. “You find out you didn’t know some things you thought you knew.”

The range he commands on post has developed into an informal joint service training center, he said. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, would like to see Fort Drum become a Northeast Regional Joint Training Center and inserted language into the defense bill last year requesting a report on the potential. Additionally, he has been selling the post’s potential to allow air and ground troops to train together.

The post’s terrain appeals to Lt. Col. Paul C. Fagan, commander of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 in New Jersey.

Unlike the desert terrain in Iraq, Afghanistan has rolling topography that bases out West cannot mimic.

“You come up to Fort Drum and you’ve got these trees everywhere and you’ve got these hilltops and … these things that you normally don’t see,” he said.

Not only is the terrain realistic, but the pilots can fly their helicopters here within three hours, avoiding heavy transport fees, he said. Ground support Marines of the 69-member team drove to the north country.

“It’s really cost effective for us to come up here and really get the same training that we get in other places in the United States,” Col. Fagan said.

He said he was glad the Army and Air Force personnel were thoughtful in bringing up the Marines and he hopes to persuade the right people to let him train here again.

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” he said. “And hopefully we’re invited back.”

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