The Perspective of the First Commander of MAWTS 1: LtCol Howard DeCastro

By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

DeCastro had been kind enough to provide an overview paper on the founding of MAWTS and its first years. This allowed us in our interview with him to highlight key takeaways as he went into the job of being the first commander of this new organization.

The first takeaway was that the Vietnam War generation of aviators in the USMC had a unity of purpose, at least those associated with the creation of MAWTS. They did not have standardized training and had to learn on the job and did NOT have the kind of coordinated operations that would make operations more effective.

As DeCastro commented: “There were F-4 RIOs, A-6 BNs, Helicopter Crewmen, and others associated with combat in Vietnam who, like many pilots, were dissatisfied with our performance.”

The second takeaway was that he came to MAWTS while working almost full time on Project 19 which was the birthing of MAWTs. By working with the team doing Project 19, when he went to MAWTS he had a clear idea of what to do.

This is how DeCastro combined the two takeaways. “We were taking resources that existed and simply did not work well together and did not have good training to do so. We thought we could make the USMC better by getting everyone on the same page and train together the way you would go to combat and see what problems arise during our training and address them.”

He underscored that it has been important for MAWTS to continue “to keep command excellence” going forward. We discussed the tradition which started early of rotating commands between a fixed wing and rotorcraft/tiltrotor craft pilot as being important to forge unity of purpose in the training process.

DeCastro also highlighted that the command brought into the first WTIs very competent Marines. These Marines then are trained and go back to their squadrons to work the integration challenge going forward.

What is very notable is that what DeCastro and his mates put in place and in motion in 1978 is not only still going but getting better. But it follows the same trajectory set in motion more than 40 years ago. Rather amazing when you realize that.