Story by Lance Cpl. Juan Anaya, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar / 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. – From dusk to dawn, more than 90 U.S. Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 373, Marine Wing Support Group (MWSG) 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), and U.S. Navy Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 25, paved their way to mission accomplishment while replacing the runway at Catalina Island Conservancy’s Airport in the Sky runway repair project.
(U.S. Marine Corps Video by Cpl. Mark A. Lowe II/Released)
Closely engaged, the service members worked with the Catalina Island Conservancy to ensure continued success through the Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program, allowing this joint civil-military partnership possible.
As clusters of clouds inflicted hurricane-like rain onto the tents atop the mountain, the Marines and Seabees took their leave at noon for the following workdays. With the moon illuminating on them through the tent’s windows, some decided to gather around a bonfire to share stories as the waves of warmth fluctuated and the faint ember danced before them.
“From the loading of materials onto the barge back in December, to today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Marines have exemplified the ability to set conditions to have aircraft fly in to land at the new airstrip,” said Master Sgt. Matt Foust, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the project. “We provided a capability through training that would be relevant and advantageous in a fight.”
With improved materials being the foundation of the new runway, the airstrip is expected to service approximately 40 flights per day, for the next 75 years.
“Many Marines can take this knowledge with them in a forward deployed environment and be prepared to reconstruct an airfield if needed,” said Cpl. Austin Perryman, a combat engineer with MWSS-373.
By sustaining applicable training with the Catalina Island Conservancy, 3rd MAW strives in maintaining its readiness by working in any climate and place.
At 1,602 feet above sea level, they worked diligently seven days a week, battling against heavy rain, turbulent winds and cold temperatures. With these efforts, they transformed a once rugged terrain into a 3,000 by 60-foot wide smooth surface for aircraft to land.
As an aviation ground support unit, the “Ace of Spades” provides internal airfield communications, expeditionary airfield services, transportation, routine emergency care and aviation medical functions, and training of personnel.
“This training is going to help us to be more prepared to accomplish our mission in a forward deployed environment,” said Gunnery Sgt. James D. Miller, the camp commandant of the project.
“We don’t typically build runways to this extent, but more or less repair runways. With this training, we can confidently send Marines to austere environments to repair runways if needed,” he added.
The cohesiveness of the Marines, Seabees and Catalina Island Conservancy were the foundation of the construction project, which was completed in April. This has led to today’s events; a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the first official landing of aircraft.
This historical event has greatly benefited not only the Marines of 3rd MAW but has greatly enhanced the lives of all those it has impacted.
“This runway is vital for the people of Catalina,” said Tony Budrovich the president and CEO of the Catalina Island Conservancy. “It supplies the island with all of their emergency support, it’s how we get our medical supplies, critical goods and the things this island needs to survive and keep running.”
Projects like the Catalina Island Conservancy’s Airport in the Sky provide realistic, relevant training necessary for 3rd MAW to “Fix, Fly and Fight” as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing and ensures the unit remains combat-ready, interoperable and deployable on short notice.