CAMP RIPPER, Iraq --
He is no longer in the cockpit, but he continues to ascend.
Maj. Chris Donnelly, the forward air controller for Aeroscout and the assistant air officer for the regiment, welcomes the responsibilities that accompany his new role as an infantry liaison to the air wing, not to mention those that accompany his new rank.
Regimental Combat Team 5 Commanding Officer Col. Patrick Malay promoted Donnelly to the rank of major Sunday during a small ceremony on Camp Ripper and underscored his importance to the regiment as an intercessory.
Briefly rehashing the history of the field grade ranks, Malay traced their roots back to the British “field officers” who departed the enclosed ramparts to pursue commercial interests along the coasts and rivers in the crown’s North American colonies.
“Field-grade officers are expected to be subject matter experts on what company officers do, but they needed to be able to show the skills that were required to make the next step to get out of the tactics and start to work at the operational business level,” Malay said.
Donnelly, a Super Cobra pilot by trade, often quits the confines of Camp Ripper as well, but not to strike bargains with the Iroquois or to settle prices on furs with French trappers.
As the FAC for Aeroscout, the regiment’s airborne quick react force, Donnelly coordinates the employment of the air assets available to the Marines on the ground so that they may locate suspicious activity, engage hostile targets, and mix with the local populace.
“We are able to extend the reach of the RCT commander, and either disrupt the insurgency in their operations or just simply provide presence out there,” said Donnelly, a 31-year-old native of Albuquerque, N.M. “That way, the locals who are farther removed from the urban spread realize not only that we’re out there, but that we’re working with the Iraqis and ISF (Iraqi Security Forces).”
Aeroscout is a tactical example of the Marine Air Ground Task Force, the atomic structure of the Marine Corps. A microcosm, therefore, of the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), Aeroscout relies on its extensive organic capabilities to project force from great distances to the far recesses of the battlespace.
The Aeroscout missions demand a synergy of efforts that begins with the joint coordination between the 3rd Marine Air Wing and Regimental Combat Team 5 and culminates in the combined searches conducted by the Iraqi jundi and the Marines.
By interfacing with the pilots in the aircraft above the Marines, Donnelly perpetuates the tradition of the field-grade officer as a liaison and serves as the glue for this tactical manifestation of the MAGTF.
“Once we are on the deck, I’m passing information to the aircraft, giving them updates, acting as the conduit between the GCE (Ground Combat Element) and the air, and integrating that MAGTF piece that we are.”
Nobody appreciates Donnelly’s role, though, more than the Aeroscout mission commander.
“Major Donnelly is an integral link between the air wing and the ground combat element,” said Capt. Michael Donaldson, a 26 year-old infantry officer and Aeroscout commander. “He brings us together with the MAGTF. He will save us in the end by utilizing the air assets.”