Thursday, April 30, 2009

LAR stands ready at sea

Story and photos by Lance Cpl. Robert C. Medina

The waters were calm as Marines with Light Armored Reconnaissance Platoon approached their vehicles chained to the deck of a Landing Craft Air Cushion vehicle (LCAC) in the lower section of USS Boxer (LHD 4). Vehicle hatches and hoods are muscled opened—the maintenance begins.

From the deserts of Iraq to the vast Indian Ocean, Marines with LAR, which is an attachment of Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are prepared for whatever m

ay come their way.

“My platoon was selected from amongst the battalion when we returned from Iraq in our last deployment,” said Gunnery Sgt. Thomas R. Johnson, platoon sergeant. “We have been a platoon for about 16 months now.”

Johnson, from Elbert, Col., said he only has four Marines who haven’t deployed before and as a whole, his M

arines are as skilled and professional as they come.

“We have been together for a while now and we have grown to know each other very well,” said Cpl. Jorge Rangel, gunner with LAR. “We know each other’s capabilities.”

This year the unit is with the 13th MEU, which is currently supporting counter-piracy operations off the coast of Africa. With this unique deployment comes unique care for their equipment.

“The biggest challenge and the difference for us being aboard ship rather than being on a land-based deployment, is the effect of the salt water on our vehicles,” said Johnson. “The metal is constantly rusting and corroding away, here we have to spend a lot more time conducting preventative maintenance on our vehicles.”

This maintenance is important for operations that could happen at a moment’s notice. Without proper working equipment, the platoon would be ineffective.

“If our vehicles are down then we are not going anywhere,” said Rangel, from San Jose, Calif.

Rangel said life on ship is very different from being on land, but it’s nothing they can’t overcome.

“On the squad level we do tactical decision games,” said Johnson. “Selected individuals do supporting arms training as well.”

The team leaders or vehicle commanders conduct rotary and fixed wing close air support training, as well as artillery and mortarmen training. The crewmen are involved in gunnery training that applies to their job field.

“It’s all stuff that we have done before, we are just sharpening our skills,” said Johnson.

LAR platoon is the main effort for surface TRAP operations (tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel), as well as the motorized r
aid element.

“A raid is, in essence, a pre-planned attack and a pre-planned withdr
awal. We serve as the motorized, light raid element,” continued Johnson.

“We go in and atta
ck what we are raiding, exploit it for information, then leave quickly.”

Traditional LAR tasks would be route area zone reconnaissance, support attacks and assaults.

“We could do a lot because of our skilled scouts and fire-power from our light armored vehicles,” said Johnson. “We have excellent communications and optics; we could call for air support, artillery or mortars, and could operate on our own for extended periods of time as long as we have the fuel.”

Johnson said logistically they are easy to support; the MEU can use them for just about anything.

“The back-bone of the MEU is the infantrymen, the line companies,” concluded Johnson. “Everything in the MEU is built on supporting ‘the grunt on the ground.’ We are part of that. We support his attack.”

Another photo from the week...

Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Jackson

Lance Cpl. Christopher Romero, from Albuquerque, N.M., assigned to HMM-163 (Rein.) embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, cleans the tire of an AV-8B Harrier aircraft, April 23.

Photos of the Week

Photos by Lance Cpl. Robert C. Medina

Marines and Sailors were lucky to see this rare water spout off the stern of USS Boxer (LHD 4), April 27.

A refueling ship tracks along side USS Boxer (LHD 4) off the coast of Africa, April 26. Unfortunately, this RAS (replenishment at sea) did not contain the much-hoped-for mail that other ships often bring.

Seaman Adam A. Torres from Oxnard, Calif., with USS Boxer (LHD 4) security team, looks out over calm waters, April 23.

Lance Cpl. Jorge A. Flores, warehouse clerk with CLB 13, organizes a storage container in the lower parts of USS Boxer (LHD 4), April 20. Flores’ mission, along with other Marines within CLB-13 supply, is to provide support to the entire 13th MEU with various materials including military clothing and gear, meals ready-to-eat (MREs), petroleum, oils and lubricants, and repair parts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Personality Profile

Photo by Lance Cpl. Robert C. Medina

Name: Lance Cpl. Zachary W. Varga

Unit: CLB-13, "Lucky 13"

Home Town: Riverside, Calif.

Job Title: Supply Clerk

Varga pokes his head out of a
storage container after retrieving
a box stashed deep inside.

Why did you join the Marine Corps? "I wanted to join the Marine Corps after I noticed a commercial on TV. I wanted to be in the avionics field, I thought it would be cool to work on planes and helicopters."

What do you do in the Marine Corps? "My job is receiving and issuing items to sections of CLB-13. Every day is different because everyone has different needs.”

What are some of your hobbies when you are not at work? "I'm interested in rock climbing, I wanted to start some sort of rock climbing event here on ship...maybe some sort of slack lining."

The overall mission for CLB-13 supply is to provide support to the entire 13th MEU with various materials including military clothing, gear, meals ready-to-eat (MREs), petroleum, oils and lubricants, and repair parts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Photos of the Week

Photos by Lance Cpl. Robert Medina

Lance Cpl. Jack B. Stone from Boynton Beach, Fla., and airframes mechanic with HMM 163, prepares a drill in order to remove panels off the wing of an AV-8B Harrier in the hanger bay of USS Boxer.

Airframe mechanics from HMM 163 work on an AV-8B Harrier in USS Boxer’s hanger bay.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rendezvous at Sea

Photo by Lance Cpl. Megan Sindelar
(As seen on CNN)

INDIAN OCEAN (April 13, 2009) The guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) tows the lifeboat from the Maersk Alabama to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), in background, to be processed for evidence after the successful rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips. Phillips was held captive by suspected Somali pirates in the lifeboat in the Indian Ocean for five days after a failed hijacking attempt off the Somali coast.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Let it be known...

This video was, in fact, shot by 13th MEU’s very own Cpl. Oscar G. Garcia, Combat Camera Videographer. Initial reports from the media incorrectly tagged the video as U.S. Navy footage.

B-roll of Maersk-Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips, being welcomed aboard USS Boxer (LHD 4), April 12, after being rescued by U.S Naval Forces off the coast of Somalia. Philips was held hostage for four days by pirates. Produced by Cpl. Oscar G. Garcia.

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Section!

A quick new update has been added to the 13th MEU blogsite, "Mom's Ask;" located on the right-hand column. You, as family members and friends, are now able to suggest ideas or comments on stories you would like to read about from here on the USS Boxer, Comstock, New Orleans, or wherever else we may be. Please note that not all requests may be answered, but we'll do our best as operations allow.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A New Group of Martial-Arts Instructors Emerge from USS Boxer

Story by Lance Cpl. Megan Sindelar
Photos by Lance Cpl. Robert Medina and MC1 Timothy Hall

USS BOXER, At sea (April 8, 2009) -- From a room blocked off by curtains and boards in the gloomy, lower parts of USS Boxer (LHD-4), came yelling, pounding and the noises of someone beating on barrels. Not one person was allowed in for two hours until the next group’s transition into the ‘secret room’.

With a sigh of relief and grim memories of the ‘secret room’ behind them, 27 students from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit proudly graduated the Marine Corps Martial-Arts Instructors Course aboard USS Boxer April 8.

The course was 15 training days which included 10 hours of training every day. Course requirements allow no students to miss more than two days. Three instructor trainers’ used all the time they could to push the Marines toward their breaking points.

Gunnery Sgt. Juan Ynfante, an instructor trainer and communications security manager with 13th MEU said everyday was harder than the previous; pushing them to and past their limits brought mental stress to the students as well, which is part of combat conditioning.

“Although the course is both physically and mentally challenging, it has gotten me more into a combat mindset,” explained Sgt. Gabrielle G. Reynoso of Nampa, Idaho, a student in the course and switching chief with 13th MEU.

Instructor trainers’ goal while coaching students is to improve techniques, skills, and endurance. In turn, this improves their mental character and combat mindset.

Students spent 18 to 25 hours in a classroom environment learning how to be an instructor, taking quizzes, and having one-on-one weekly counseling with the instructor trainers. Marines spent the remaining time drenched in sweat during physical conditioning, which weaved Marine Corps Martial-Arts Program (MCMAP) skills into multiple squad building exercises.

Physical training was the easy part—the instructor trainers stressed on pushing these Marines to learn control and be able to stay in the fight, said Ynfante, a Mathis, Texas native.

“The hardest part for the Marines is combat cohesion,” he said, when speaking on events that occurred in the ‘secret room’.

Not one of the Marines gave up after spending two hours expending all their energy as they fought to survive the combat cohesion events—an exclusive rite-of-passage which all instructors-to-be must experience.

Even though combat cohesion was tough, Reynoso said it was her favorite part and brought her squad closer together.

“Marines will take what they’ve learned in this course and be able to teach their Marines how to effectively use MCMAP as a weapon of last resort,” she said.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gulf of Aden

Photos by Lance Cpl. Robert Medina

Staff Sgt. Bryan E. Campbell, from Melbourne, Ark. and UH-1Y crew chief with HMM-163 (Rein.) “Evil Eyes,” prepares an M2.50 caliber machine gun during flight operations in support of counter-piracy surveillance operations. Sgt. Anthony Petro, from Des Moines, Iowa, BLT 1/1, accompanied the crew during their operations. Air crews from HMM-163 (Rein.) patrol the open seas near the horn of Africa conducting counter-piracy surveillance for merchant shipping in the internationally recommended transit corridor in the Gulf of Aden.

Sgt. Alex J. Azcuenaga, from Boise, Idaho and UH-1Y aerial gunner with HMM-163 (Rein.) “Evil Eyes,” patrols the Gulf of Aden conducting counter-piracy surveillance for merchant shipping in the internationally recommended transit corridor.

Friday, April 3, 2009

13th MEU Participates in Eastern Maverick

Story by Staff Sgt. Matthew O. Holly
Photos by Staff Sgt. Matthew O. Holly / Lance Cpl. Jesse Leger

Elements of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), began conducting Exercise Eastern Maverick 2009, alongside Qatari military forces on March 28, a bilateral training exercise designed to build and improve cooperation between both military forces.

During the exercise, U.S. Marines and Sailors will work alongside the Qatari military for approximately two weeks, conducting a number of training exercises, to include small-unit vehicle training and live-fire exercises, as well as pilot training with the Qatari Air Force.

Lt. Col. Tye R. Wallace, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/1 assigned to the 13th MEU, said he looks forward to the operating with the Qatari military during the exercise.

“Exercises like this one provide important opportunities for us to work more closely together with our friends in the region, thereby helping to enhance understanding, security and stability throughout the Middle East,” he said. “Understanding and communication are vital to a strong friendship, and these exercises are an excellent opportunity for us to further develop both of these with our Qatari friends.”

The first day of the exercise consisted of several classes covering sniper training, grenade handling and the use of a Global Positioning System. Each subsequent day will build upon the skills learned from earlier days.

“They picked it up quickly,” said 1st Lt. Jesus S. Mendez, platoon commander with Combined Anti Armor Team 2, Weapons Company, BLT 1/1. “It was a good opportunity to work with the Qataris to see how our friends operate.”

The exercise also allows opportunities for athletic interaction and competition between the two nations. U.S. Marines and Sailors participated in a friendly game of volleyball on the first night of the exercise with several Qataris.

“It is good for integration and to get to know each other in one way or another,” said Maj. Adel Ali Al Saadi, a maintenance officer for the Qatar Maintenance Corps. “It’s a way to break down the barriers.”

“We should do this every time during exercises – it builds unity and friendship,” said Staff Sgt. Steve D. Oldham, 3rd platoon sergeant for Company B, BLT 1/1. “This helps strengthen relationships with our host nation, which is important.”

“I think it was a great game,” said Pfc. Abdul Rahman, a rocketman in the Qatari Amiri Land Forces. “This created a good team environment for the upcoming training between us and the Marines.”

The 13th MEU is embarked aboard Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group (BOXESG) ships deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct Maritime Security Operations.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Marines and Sailors Volunteer at Children’s Center

Release # 054-09
By Staff Sgt. Matthew O. Holly

Marines and Sailors assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (BOXARG) spent the day playing with children from the Alia School for Early Intervention in Bahrain March, 24.

Approximately 15 Marines and Sailors from USS New Orleans (LPD 18) spent time socializing with special needs children, gardening and playing with children during gym class.

Staff Sgt. John J. Ankney, data chief for Battalion Landing Team 1/1 assigned to the 13th MEU, said that the selfless work being done at the school is very uplifting.

“I was really impressed with the program’s success in integrating the children with special needs into the primary education gym classes,” said Staff Sgt. John J. Ankney. “The teachers have an amazing talent connecting with the children.”

The center was set up in 2004 by the Bahrain Society for Children with Behavior and Communication Disorders and helps students with communication, social, emotional and physical development problems.

“I wanted to volunteer so I could give back,” said Ankney, a Mission Creek, Idaho native, explaining his reasons for volunteering. “More importantly, I wanted to make a difference.”

The Marines and Sailors also helped plant flowers with the children.

“It was nice to have the opportunity to sit down and garden with the kids,” said Hospital Corpsmen 3rd Class Eli Y. Hernandez, assigned to the 13th MEU’s Battalion Landing Team. “It gave us a chance to connect in a one-on-one environment. Spending time with these children was the bright point of my day!"
The 13th MEU is embarked aboard Boxer USS Boxer (LHD 4), USS Comstock (LSD 45) and USS New Orleans (LPD 18) ships deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct Maritime Security Operations.