Debate Magazine

The Making of a Marine: "wizzos"

By Pomozone @pomozone
The Marines refer to a Weapons System Operator as a "wizzo." I like the flow of that word. The briefing before going into the hangar was torture. Imagine being at a church service that never ended (because you didn't know the liturgy, you didn't know if you were in the middle or at the end) or imagine a college professor prepping you for an exam without a textbook or syllabus or notes of any sort except the small text on white background projected from the power-point projector: bullets of seemingly complicated facts, military jargon, and lots of figures. I kept falling asleep on the second row no matter how I tried to take notes on my Iphone. When I looked back on my notes, I found the typed portion, "Transcript is smarts" (Someone tell me what that means). I bet you I would have stayed awake were a DI around.
It wasn't at all that the information was irrelevant or that the info was necessarily boring. It was simply that we were talking with Marine officers who were college graduates, cheerful, smiley, humorous, and with a tinge of dangerously brilliant nerdiness. It was very different than the DI side of Parris Island where every muscle in you was on guard not to step out of line. A little gun shy, the pilots and support staff spoke to us about the benefits of being in the Marine Corps, why they came into the Corps, etc.

They allowed us to tour the F-18 hangar where maintenance was being done on the planes. To give you an idea of how generous the Marines were to allow us close-up access, an F18 costs 35 million, whereas the production and purchase of a new F18 costs 800 million. Short and sleek, several F18s were in various states of repair, crewmen working on planes on the other half of the hangar or out on the runway.  They had us don a pilot's helmet, climb the B-stand" (aka, "Bravo stand." By the way, none of the pilots or wizzos to whom I spoke knew why it was called a "B-stand"). The pilots were cordial.

Of the things I learned while on the hangar tour, the value pilots place on their wizzos was the most impressive. The wizzo's extra pair of eyes cuts the time of identifying and engaging targets by half. The wizzo essentially spends his time scanning the landscape through amplified video technology, looking for targets who think themselves to be insignificant subjects of interest. While the pilot sees the immediate need before him, the wizzo is watching dozens of incidents of enemy activity on the ground and calling in strikes. As one pilot told me, the wizzo makes the pilot look good. That is why they call wizzos "wizards", too.

One pilot was lauding the surgical precision of the pilot with the cooperation of pilot and wizzo. He described to me one engagement in which one wizzo was able to see the distress of a single Marine, zero in ordinance, strafe the enemy, call in support and rescue that Marine.  One Marine.

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