Sunday, February 27, 2011

13th MEU sets sail for 2011 WESTPAC deployment

USS GREEN BAY (LPD-20) – Under a bright and sunny morning sky, Marines and sailors with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, I Marine Expeditionary Force, kissed and hugged their loved ones goodbye and boarded three ships ready to set sail, Feb. 22.
More than 2,500 Marines and sailors with the 13th MEU left Naval Base San Diego aboard the USS Boxer (LHD-4), USS Green Bay (LPD-20) and USS Comstock (LSD-45) for their 2011 Western Pacific deployment.
“This is my first deployment and I’m excited to see the world,” said Lance Cpl. William J. Miller, an administrative clerk with Command Element, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “I’m going to miss my wife but it’s good to know she’s waiting for me and I’ll see her in several months.”
The road to deployment began summer 2010, when the ground combat, logistical and aviation elements attached to the 13th MEU and began pre-deployment work-ups. Four pre-deployment training events and numerous training field operations tested the 13th MEU’s Marines and sailors and brought them closer to deployment readiness.
“I feel like I have accomplished a lot in the past few months,” said Lance Cpl. Jeremiah J. Zabel, heavy machine gunner, Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th MEU. “We’ve done many field [operations] and different training events. It’s prepared me and my Marines but there’s only so much you can do. Experience that comes with deployment is where you truly learn what you and your fellow Marines are capable of.”
From Humanitarian Assistance Operations to Visit Board Search and Seizure the 13th MEU stands ready to serve as warrior ambassadors. As the 13th MEU heads west they will visit countries and places most Americans have never been to, ready to operate and conduct missions as vast as the ocean they sail on.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

13th MEU certified to fight

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - In the past 20 years, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit has conducted numerous expeditionary operations throughout the globe.

In 1990, 13th MEU Marines and sailors conducted the first Marine offensive actions against Iraq, boarding two Iraqi tankers whose crew refused to obey United Nations sanctions. In 1996, it became the first MEU (Special Operations Capable) to put their entire landing force ashore in Kuwait without the use of a port or airfield. In 2002, the 13th MEU provided primary air support for coalition forces during Operation Anaconda in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, at the same time building bridges, schools, wells, and improving structures at a maternity hospital in Kenya.

Marines and sailors with the 13th MEU spent two weeks in December training for kinetic and non-kinetic operations as part of Certification Exercise or CERTEX. This exercise marked the last major pre-deployment training for the 13th MEU, putting their capabilities to the test.

Previous training events enabled the MEU known as “The Fighting Thirteenth” to conduct mechanized raids, Visit Board Search and Seizure, Humanitarian Assistance Operations, Non-Combatant Evacuations and other mission sets MEUs perform.

“Compared to when we began these at sea periods we’ve improved in a lot of ways,” said Sgt. John W. Stertzer, Headquarters Platoon sergeant, Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th MEU. “We’re more organized and better prepared. This last [operations] we did, it ran a lot better and we understood our drills. It’s an experience you can only get through practice and going out to sea. We want to go out as professionals representing the Corps and its amphibious capabilities. It’s a different beast deploying by sea than by land. When we deployed to Iraq we had specific missions we performed as a unit, such as convoy security and quick reaction force. Deploying as part of a MEU, we have all these elements of the battalion that can perform a wider variety of different mission sets. We have Marines that can conduct raids, VBSS, [Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel] and several other types of missions. We can do all of these by ships that operate in different parts of the globe.”

Unlike previous training missions, the Marines and sailors did not know when they would get the call to respond to a situation. Once the scenario was presented to the 13th MEU command, they had a limited time to plan, brief and execute, just as a real-world scenario would require.

“You can always fall back on your training,” said Lance Cpl. Jordan Paris, a heavy machine gunner with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, Weapons Company, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU. “As long as you listen to your NCO’s and do what you can, you can accomplish the mission.”

The 13th MEU not only responded to the scenarios in a matter of hours, the Marines and sailors simultaneously planned, briefed and executed multiple missions from three ships, further adding to the complexity of the exercise. Marines and sailors from Combat Logistics Battalion 13 and Bravo Company, BLT 1/1 conducted Humanitarian Assistance Operations, handing out food and water to role players and constructing structures aboard Camp Pendleton.

At the same time Bravo Company was operating, Marines of Charlie Company planned and executed a Long Range Helicopter raid from the USS Boxer, travelling more than 100 miles inland to take out a mock enemy force. Simultaneously, while Charlie Company conducted this operation, Marines from Alpha Company were planning an Amphibious Assault on a mock enemy camp miles away from shore. While Alpha Company executed this mission, the MEU prepared and launched a VBSS mission against a pirated vessel.

“Operating as part of a MEU is much faster paced than anything I’ve seen before,” said Cpl. Randy Groves, senior radio operator for Headquarters Platoon, Alpha Company, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU. “We’re communicating with ships, vehicles, and teams in the field and we need good communication to function. Most of it is waiting for the call to go on a mission. It’s more aggressive. You have to be on the spot with your skills by this point in training. You can’t afford to be inefficient, others depend on you.”

Evaluators from the 11th MEU observed the command and control process of these missions and followed the Marines executing them to see how well the MEU operated from start to finish.

“One of the best ways to set a MEU up for success is to provide an independent and objective observation/evaluation of its planning, briefing, preparation, and execution of assigned missions,” said Capt. Bryan Welles, Golf Company commander, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, who will be deploying with the 11th MEU. “This provides the MEU with insight into what is or is not effective, and validates the MEU’s Standard Operating Procedures. This also allows a MEU to sustain its SOP’s and tactics, techniques, and procedures; rethink the areas that are not as effective. Additionally, other MEUs can learn from the 13th MEU’s strengths and weaknesses and apply the lessons learned to their own mission sets during future work-ups and deployments.”

Each of the 2,000 plus Marines and sailors, from private to colonel shared a part in the successes of CERTEX as they operated from ships USS Boxer, USS Green Bay and USS Comstock, Every Marine who kept the computers running and connected aboard ship to those who maintained the aviation assets, to the fire team leaders who performed their missions.

“The raid force [I observed] was able to effectively take raid mission tasking from higher, and plan, brief, prepare, and execute the mission to standard in a short timeframe,” said Welles. “This is positive because it demonstrates that the 13th MEU can successfully carry out a mechanized raid mission if called upon during its deployment.”

With the exercise concluded, Marines and sailors of the 13th MEU proved they can deploy and operate as part of the Navy-Marine Corps team, capable of performing a wide variety of missions as warriors and ambassadors of the sea.

When the Marines and sailors of the 13th MEU deploy this year, they could find themselves handing out food and water supporting Humanitarian Assistance Operations to assaulting a beach in a part of the world many have never heard of. While no one can ever predict the future of the 13th MEU, their accomplishments at CERTEX means they can respond to whatever that future is.

13th MEU Marines practice amphibious capabilities during C2X

SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND, Calif. – On Nov. 17, under the cover of darkness, Marines and sailors with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted an amphibious raid on San Clemente Island. This mechanized raid was one of the final events of Composite Training Unit Exercise, the second at-sea exercise designed to prepare the 13th MEU for deployment next year.

More than 180 Marines landed on the island after launching from the USS Green Bay in Amphibious Assault Vehicles, a tank-like craft capable of carrying Marines and supplies from ship to shore.

For this training event, the Marines of Alpha Company had to eliminate the mock enemy who had a foothold on the island. The Marine Corps capability of amphibious operations enables them to easily access strategic chokepoints and areas traditional forces cannot reach.

“Getting Marines to shore is something we’ve been doing since World War II but we have better gear to do it with,” said Lance Cpl. Nathan Mayoras, an AAV driver with Alpha Company, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU. “The same AAV’s we use to transport combat ready troops can transport supplies and medical aid to disaster ridden countries too. It’s a versatile system. We can not only go ashore from ship but, we can also go miles into shore and provide convoy security, casualty evacuation and provide a variety of support to our Marines.”

During the raid, fire teams maneuvered around buildings, shipping containers and other structures in search of enemy combatants. Marines manning light and medium machine guns positioned themselves to provide cover fire.

“The idea behind a raid is you hit hard and fast with a planned extract shortly after completing the objective,” said Capt. Lucas A. Balke, company commander, Alpha Company. “It’s pretty humbling to be a part of this type of capability. Sometimes you get caught up in the planning and we as a Marine Corps have been doing this job for many, many years. But it’s cool to take a moment and think about what we have now to execute the raid. We have the Marines, AAV’s, Tanks, fixed and rotary wing support.”

Amphibious Assault Vehicle crewmembers provided support with heavy machine gun fire from their vehicles. A support by fire element comprised of Marines armed with 60 mm mortars and medium machine guns also helped cover the assault.

“All the training we received with the raid classes and all the training put together in the past months all came into play during this raid,” said Sgt. John Taing, 3rd Squad leader, 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company. “There are always areas to improve on and there are some kinks we have to work out with my Marines. But I think they performed pretty well, I do feel these Marines could close with and destroy the enemy if this were a real-life situation.”

The Marine Corps amphibious capability enabled by a sea-based force is a fundamental component of America’s strategic advantage and its core competency. Since 1982, the United States has conducted more than 100 amphibious operations with the Navy-Marine Corps team on scene in such places as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Liberia, East Timor and Haiti.

Just as past generations of Marines successfully landed on distant shores and took the fight to the enemy, Alpha Company seized the objective, denying the enemy forces a foothold on the island. This exercise gave the Marines and sailors of Alpha Company a chance to prove themselves as warrior ambassadors and demonstrated their capabilities as part of an amphibious force able to reach distant shores from the sea.

BLT 1/1 corpsmen teach Marines enhanced combat lifesaving techniques during C2X

USS GREEN BAY (LPD-20) – “This training works,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ruben Levya, a CLS instructor and assistant leading petty officer for Battalion Landing Team 1/1’s corpsmen. “I’ve treated casualties in combat and a couple Marines who I taught back in 2005, saved their fellow Marines lives in Iraq.”

Corpsmen from Marines from BLT 1/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, trained their Marines how to save lives through the Combat Lifesavers Course during Composite Training Unit Exercise aboard the USS Green Bay from Nov. 4-19.

The three-day course consisted of classroom instruction and practical application of not only the medical supplies each Marine carries, but IV’s, improvised tourniquets and medical tools corpsmen carry. The corpsmen taught the Marines how to treat wounds caused by gunshots, improvised explosive devices, shrapnel and other hazards on the battlefield. A Marine can die from massive blood loss in less than two minutes if someone can’t stop an artery from bleeding out.

“I think any Marine, no matter what their job or rank should learn these combat lifesaving procedures,” said Lance Cpl. Nickolas Garbee, an administrative clerk with Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU. “Every Marine is a rifleman and no matter what your job is you need to know to save lives. You don’t want to be in combat and discover you don’t have the know-how to save your buddy.”

The Marines final test was to perform combat lifesaving techniques in a simulated stressful environment as corpsmen shouted commands to them, in less than two minutes, the time someone can succumb to massive blood loss.

Even though no small arms fire erupted or IED’s exploded in the Battalion Aid Station, each Marine had to treat simulated wounds caused by these weapons. The Marines had to check for massive hemorrhaging, obstructed airways, respiratory malfunctions, and broken bones to pass the test.

“I try to make it as loud and distracting as possible while they are trying to perform the lifesaving methods,” said Levya. “You can never simulate a combat environment fully but, the goal is to get them to remember what they’ve been taught under stress and smoothly apply it.”

Stabilizing the simulated casualty meant success as each Marine accomplished this important life saving task. The BLT’s corpsmen plan on teaching more Marines to save lives with CLS as the 13th MEU prepares for deployment.

“Corpsmen won’t always be around to treat wounded Marines,” said Levya. “There’ve been cases where several Marines went down at once and only a few corpsmen were there to help. This gives each Marine a greater chance at surviving their injuries if they can treat each other.”

13th MEU conducts PMINT

USS GREEN BAY (LPD-20) – Marines with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced) perform maintenance on CH-46E “Sea Knights” aboard the USS Boxer during PHIBRON MEU Integration off the coast of California, Oct. 20. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted PHIBRON/MEU integration (PMINT) in order to develop baseline amphibious core competencies as a composite sea based MAGTF. PMINT is one of several exercises designed to prepare the MEU for their upcoming deployment in early 2011.(Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)
(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher O’Quin/Released)

USS GREEN BAY (LPD-20) – Lance Cpl. Joshua Carnegie, a tank crewman with Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, explains the capabilities of the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank to Australian Royal Navy Lieutenant Chris Mills aboard the USS Green Bay during PHIBRON/ MEU Integration off the coast of California, Oct. 21. He and service members from the Australian and New Zealand Navies toured the USS Boxer and Green Bay as part of the Integrated Advanced Tactics Course.
(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher O’Quin/Released)

USS GREEN BAY (LPD-20) – Marines and sailors with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, wait to board Amphibious Assault Vehicles before they conduct a mechanized raid as part of PHIBRON MEU Integration off the coast of California, Oct. 23. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted PHIBRON/MEU integration (PMINT) in order to develop baseline amphibious core competencies as a composite sea based MAGTF. PMINT is one of several exercises designed to prepare the MEU for their upcoming deployment in early 2011.(Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)

USS GREEN BAY (LPD-20) - Navy Seaman Carl Worthington, a loadmaster with Landing Craft Unit 5 assists with offloading of vehicles during PHIBRON MEU Integration off the coast of California, Oct. 22. From October 15-25, The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted PHIBRON/MEU integration (PMINT) in order to develop baseline amphibious core competencies as a composite sea based MAGTF. PMINT is one of several exercises designed to prepare the MEU for their upcoming deployment in early 2011.(Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)

USS GREEN BAY (LPD-20) – Marines with Maritime Raid Force, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit head to the Training Ship Atlas to reinforce the Marines currently aboard during Visit Board Search and Seizure training as part of PHIBRON/MEU Integration off the coast of California, Oct. 24. From October 15-25, The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted PHIBRON/MEU integration (PMINT) in order to develop baseline amphibious core competencies as a composite sea based MAGTF. PMINT is one of several exercises designed to prepare the MEU for their upcoming deployment in early 2011.(Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)

13th MEU Marines help Anaheim community with car wash

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, I Marine Expeditionary Force, armed themselves with towels and vacuums during a car wash at the Arco AM/PM in downtown Anaheim, Sept. 9.

Their mission: to help raise donations with the Anaheim 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Adoption Committee. The Marines and the committee finished the day collecting more than $2,700 in funds with 100 percent going directly to “the Fighting 13th” and their families through numerous support projects.

“Right now we are trying to raise money to support upcoming needs, like the Marine Corps Birthday Ball and the Christmas Party,” said Carolyn Walters, chairwoman of the committee. “While the Marines are gone on deployment the funds will help support the families. We never know when there will be a request. Recently we were able to put aside $1,500 for children’s toys and a jump house at a beach bash.”

The Marines and car wash staff spent the day helping vacuum and hand dry dozens of vehicles.

“It was really great seeing all these people come to help the Marine Corps,” said Lance Cpl. Midori Fabricante, a personnel clerk with the Fighting 13th. “Helping our fellow Marines and their families is what we do well, even if it translates to working at a car wash.”

Jerry Zomorodian, owner of the gas station and car wash, dedicated the day’s car wash earnings to the committee.

"I come from the Middle East and I see these young men and women risk their lives …this is the least I can do for them,” said Zomorodian. “I am honored to be a part of this committee and I would like to do this every year.”

People from the community came in droves to show their support, including members of the Anaheim Police Department, Anaheim Fire Department and military veterans.

“It’s good to see the Marines out here in the community doing good work like this,” said Ray White, a former sailor who had his Ford F-250 washed. “My truck wasn’t really dirty, but this is a good cause. Anyone in the military I support.”

Even though the Marines and sailors will be thousands of miles from home next year, the community and committee will continue to support them and their families just as the Fighting 13th will continue to support them as warriors and ambassadors.

13th MEU Corpsmen train to care for Marines in flight

NAVAL AIR STATION POINT MUGU, Calif. – Whenever a wounded Marine needs dire medical attention inside a combat zone, helicopters provide the means to get them to the care they require. However, during this casualty evacuation, each passing minute in flight subtracts from the Marine’s golden hour. During this indefinite time period, prompt medical treatment helps prevent further trauma or death.

Corpsmen from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have a plan to add minutes to the golden hour on their upcoming deployment. They will bring the medical care en route to the Marines, from inside the helicopters. The 13th MEU will deploy as the first West Coast MEU to have en route medical care during CASEVAC missions.

To begin building proficiency for this mission, a staff of four corpsmen began working together with air crew from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), to orient themselves with the helicopters during Realistic Urban Training at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Calif., Sept. 28-30.

“This is going to be the first flights for them and they’ll be getting oriented to the profiles of the aircraft, learning how to work in the aircraft and how to work with the aircrews,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Chris Thorne, the medical planner with the 13th MEU. “We’re having to create this model from scratch because no other MEU’s on the West Coast have been doing it…ever. It is a lost skill set. When we first talked about using the CH-46’s for hoisting the litters it actually took everyone a little bit aback because it’s just not a skill set that’s trained for anymore; to do casualty hoisting into CH-46’s. It’s just a competency that hasn’t been required or utilized.”

Pilots and crew chiefs with HMM-163 (Rein) lifted a 180 pound mannequin on a sked stretcher into CH-46E “Sea Knight” hovering 30 ft off the deck as safely and urgently as possible during the CASEVAC rehearsals.

“To successfully conduct a CASEVAC it all starts with preparation, proper configuration of the aircraft and making sure all the crew members in the aircraft are proficient in CASEVAC missions,” said Sgt. David J. Kelly, a crew chief with HMM-163 (Rein.). “It’s also about being flexible and adapting to missions and making sure everything is in place to get the mission accomplished.”

Once inside the helicopter, the corpsmen moved the mannequins into position to administer medical treatment.

“I’ve already become more familiar with how the air crew operates and as time goes by I’m going to get more comfortable with working in the aircraft,” said Navy Seaman Anthony Weber, a corpsman with Combat Logistics Battalion 13, 13th MEU. “This training is definitely going to impact our ability to take care of Marines in a new way that we’ve never been able to. I’m going to learn new things. It’s definitely a whole different perspective that’s a whole different change of medical care from what we are used to on the ground.”

Thorne and the CASEVAC staff will review the photos and video taken by combat correspondents and combat camera Marines and find ways to improve on the work they did.

“One of the last missions went really, really well, the Maritime Raid Force did an awesome job packaging and using some hoisting techniques that were creative in moving the patient and getting him up to the flight deck” said Thorne. “The air CASEVAC crew has sharpened their skills and we timed out at over just two minutes from time on hover over the flight deck to when the casualty was onboard the aircraft which is really a great time. It’s a night and day difference between when we started doing these CASEVACS and where we are at now. With that said, now we have lots of reps to go to keep refining that skill and keep on building on it.”

Though the training at RUT highlighted their capabilities, the preparation they do in the months ahead will increase their proficiency, with the documentation of the training benefiting the Naval Medicine community.

Whether wounded Marines spend three minutes or three hours in flight, the corpsmen can help give wounded Marines more minutes on the golden hour as the 13th MEU demonstrates its dedication to putting its Marines and sailors first.

This story is part one of a series chronicling the CASEVAC training 13th MEU corpsmen conduct in preparation for deployment.

BLT 1/1 trains for future with Special Operations Training Group

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - When Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 1st Marines deploys with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit next year, its Marines and sailors could find themselves raiding multiple enemy camps, neutralizing enemy fighters on ships and other various mission sets.

During the months of August and September, BLT 1/1 trained from a wide range courses offered through the Special Operations Training Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force. Marine Expeditionary Unit’s who have Marines formally trained for these missions, operate not just as a MEU but as a MEU Special Operations Capable.

“In order to get certain Special Operations Capable qualifications, the Marines need to go through specific courses with SOTG,” said Will Redman, the close quarters tactics lead instructor with SOTG. “The benefit is that it gives the MEU that asset that they normally don’t have and a capability for their commanders.”

Aircrew from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced) support helicopter raid training, bringing to bear several CH-53E “Super Stallions” and CH-46E “Sea Knights” for transporting an entire company of Marines. Pilots in AH-1W “Super Cobras” provided simulated close air support and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance to clear the way for assault support elements.

“This training gives us an opportunity to work with the ground side, understand their capabilities and build a working relationship before we deploy,” said Capt. Justin W. May, a Super Stallion pilot with HMM-163 (Rein).

Marines from throughout the BLT posed as foreign nationals, enemy combatants and high value individuals during the training. The mock combatants fired blank ammunition from AK-47’s while wearing garbs similar to those worn by insurgents. Instructors supervised the use of simulated rocket propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices and mortar fire to bring a safe level of realism to the training.

“During the training we do what the instructors ask us, whether it’s running up and down a trench or fire bursts of blank ammo,” said Lance Cpl. Donall Rowe, a mortarman with Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, BLT 1/1. “But we try and think of ways to confuse or slow down the Marines’ advance during the raids. We do things like planting simulated IED’s or put snipers hiding in the tree line. The better we do our job, the more prepared they will be.”

Since the Marines began the training, they have had the chance to perfect their tactics.

“We’ve gotten some real good training in,” said Lance Cpl. Adam Duerschmidt, a fire team leader with 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, BLT 1/1. “This is some of the best close quarters training we’ve had, especially with the live fire shooting in the shoot house.”

A team of instructors took note of the way the Marines conducted their raids, critiquing how they operated and whether they applied what they learned.

“All the [grading] is critiquing points for them to learn and build off of,” said Staff Sgt. David A. Cleaves, the chief raid instructor with SOTG, I MEF. “This is a flat across the board grading scale for all the companies and raid forces that come down here and it puts everyone on the same sheet of music. It’s not one instructor’s point of view.”

Having completed the course syllabus, the Marines and sailors of BLT 1/1 will not only help make up a Marine Air Ground Task Force but a Special Purpose MAGTF as the 13th MEU becomes Special Operations Capable.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

1/1 Marines conclude Exercise Mountain Warrior at Bridgeport

MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. -- After spending the past two weeks training in the hills of Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, the Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, began the final part of Exercise Mountain Warrior 6-10.

Marines from the Battalion’s companies traveled to different areas of the training center to conduct multiple counterinsurgency operations like they might face in Afghanistan or other parts of the globe. The Marines systematically had to gain the trust of the locals, protect them from enemy forces, cut off smuggling operations by enemy supporters, and work to build stability in the region through conventional and unconventional means.

“It was pretty good working face-to-face with the Afghani role players with an interpreter,” said Staff Sgt. Francisco Roman Jr., the platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1/1. “You can’t go in guns raised because the populace will turn themselves off to you. You are coming into their village. Because you are coming into their home the friendlier you are the better off you are. I would want them to treat me the same way if I was in the Afghani’s shoes. Someone comes into my house I would expect them to respect me and my family.”

This training benefited all levels of the battalion, from private to lieutenant colonel.

“It has definitely been a learning experience working in the mountains using survival techniques and combining it with Afghani role players,” said Sgt. Benjamin Israel, 1st Squad leader, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1/1. “It’s something I’ve never done in the eight years I’ve been in. It was a work up that was needed.”

Hiding amongst the villagers, role players posing as enemy fighters tested the Marines capabilities as warriors and added complexity to the training.

Evaluators and instructors traveled with the various companies to critique and gauge the actions of the Marines to ensure that the battalion could not only learn from their mistakes but strengths as well. They evaluated them on warfighting functions and their ability to operate in a counterinsurgency environment.

“The Marines definitely thought outside the box during the [Final Exercise],” said 1st Lt. Benjamin Brewster, an evaluator for FINEX and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran.

One company developed a village assistance platoon, added Brewster. By taking individuals with personalities that were friendlier to dealing interpersonally with the people and had a little bit more of a perspective toward counterinsurgency. They could help the locals while they let the other Marines focus on conventional and tactical roles of securing the village and the outlying land.

“I was pleasantly surprised in what I saw and certainly what I saw evaluating, concluded Brewster. “There are plenty of Marines that went above and beyond what we’d expect them to do in this situation. The battalion is definitely ready to operate in Afghanistan or wherever they are called to while on the MEU.”

The Marines systematically disabled the enemy forces. Aerial surveillance provided by aircraft gave Marines the intelligence they needed to locate enemy forces. By relaying information quickly amongst the companies and the command operations center, the Marines could surgically strike at training camps, supply routes and enemy patrols.

“The [13th Marine Expeditionary Unit] is going to get a Battalion Landing Team that’s as well trained or better trained than any BLT that’s gone out in recent times,” said Lt. Col. Craig R. Wonson, the commanding officer of 1/1. “That’s not because we train hard, which we do. It’s also because we’ve had longer pre-deployment period. We haven’t slowed down and we don’t intend to. When you are the first of the first you have to live up to that moniker.”

Having completed the exercise, the Marines will leave for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, where they will have a few days to rest and relax before they begin other training events and work-ups with the Marines and sailors of the 13th MEU.

This concludes the series highlighting 1/1’s training at MCMWTC.

1/1 Marines ramp up Exercise Mountain Warrior at Bridgeport

MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. -The Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment tested themselves during the first week of Exercise Mountain Warrior 06-10 when learned the basics of mountain survival such as rappelling down cliffs, traversing steep terrain and knot tying.

The second week of the exercise included the basics with key leader engagements, live fire ranges, platoon attacks, defensive positions and other scenarios to test the Marines’ ability to use their counterinsurgency tactics.

“Bridgeport has always been the best location for building camaraderie and unit cohesion,” said Lt. Col. Craig R. Wonson, the commanding officer of 1/1. “That is why Mountain Warrior is ideal for us to use as a [Battalion Landing Team] forming event. Mountain Warrior also serves as a mission rehearsal exercise, which will provide our battalion an assessment of our conventional and counterinsurgency skill proficiency…in this case at 10,000 ft.”

The companies rotated between different training areas, often hiking up and down the steep mountains to gain the tactical advantage.

“I saw a huge strategic advantage going downhill after contouring the ridge,” said 1st Lt. Evan Fairfield, the platoon commander of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1/1, after hiking down a 1,000 foot hill to participate in a key leader engagement. “By taking the ridgeline area we were covered and concealed the entire way and avoided an [improvised explosive device] threat while maintaining the high ground. We don’t sacrifice security so we’ll take the hard way anytime we can.”

Afghan nationals, hired by the Tatitlek Corporation, role played as villagers and spoke Pashto to help add to the realism of what Marines face in country. Interpreters assigned to the platoons within each company aided the Marines in identifying problems and concerns such as enemy in the area, water shortages and disease.

“I want to be a good citizen and help the Marines learn the culture of Afghanistan,” said Zack, a 24-year-old interpreter who fled Afghanistan when he was a boy. “The least I can do to help my people and my fellow Americans is to teach [the Marines] what I know. If I can help the Marines to communicate better, then my people and the Marines will be better off.”

Instructors supervised each training scenario and provided input on how the Marines performed, from fire team to command level.

The Marines here are doing pretty well today, explained Staff Sgt. Brandon Miller, an instructor with Unit Training Group MCMWTC. The Marines set a good atmosphere through smiling and shaking hands with locals. Through the key leader engagement, the company commanding officer was able to get information on suspected enemy from the village elder.

Some squads engaged the local populace, while others in separate areas performed squad and platoon attacks on Marines posing as enemy fighters. The enemy role players trained a week at MCMWTC before the rest of the Battalion arrived to become familiar with the training area.

“This is a 360-degree battlefield,” said Cpl. Phillip M. Dust, a fire team leader with 1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1/1. “We had [role players] firing blanks at us from trees 20 feet off the ground. You can’t forget that the enemy will hide and will use the terrain to their advantage. We still were able to neutralize them and gain intelligence, but you have to use your team to ensure the enemies can’t get the drop on you.”

Other training opportunities existed for the Marines and sailors two hours away from the training center. The Marines from each company travelled to Hawthorne Army Depot to conduct drills with live ammunition. They performed platoon attacks, military operations in urban terrain, and tables three and four of Marine Corps marksmanship.

“When you train, you try to train your Marines in the hardest possible conditions that safety allows you to so that way if they ever come up against the enemy you want it theoretically easier than training,” said Gunner Shelby Lasater, the battalion’s gunner. “But if it does come up to where it is the toughest thing, we’ve exposed them to that training already so they’re used to it, they know what to expect. This is definitely testing their limits. This is great because they’re coming from sea level at Camp Pendleton and within two weeks they’re at 5,000 feet elevation conducting live fire attacks uphill with 600 feet gaining in elevation in half a mile period. And trying to take that good clean shot is tough.”

After completing this week of the training, their readiness will determine the success of the final exercise where the battalion will conduct a fictional counterinsurgency operation that covers 46,000 acres and involves the execution by more than 1,100 Marines, role-players, civilian contractors and instructors throughout four days.

This story is part four of a series highlighting 1/1’s training at MCMWTC.

1/1 Marines use low-tech options to thrive in mountain terrain

MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. - The Marines of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment 1st Marine Division trained at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport with high-tech gear such as night vision goggles, computers and rifle combat optics.

However, with low-tech equipment such as compasses, ropes, pack animals and alternative communication equipment the Marines of 1/1 were able to operate and thrive in the rugged environment of Exercise Mountain Warrior 06-10 during the month of July.

During the first week of the exercise, the Marines learned to rappel down sheer cliffs, cross wide gorges and traverse steep terrain.

“Learning something as simple as tying a military repel seat with six feet of rope and a carabineer, you can get around the terrain efficiently,” said Cpl. Brad P. Warren, the training noncommissioned officer with Weapons Platoon, Charlie Company. “That rope has multiple uses and weighs next to nothing. The simpler it is the better. If you have too much gear it will slow you down and hurt the mission more than help.”

The mountain terrain combined with the tall trees created obstacles for radio operators seeking constant communication with the command operations center. Their remedy was no more than, string, a plastic spoon from a Meal-Ready-to-Eat and some wire.

“You can make a field expedient antenna by taking copper wire and splicing the ends,” said Lance Cpl. Randy R. Groves, the senior radio operator with Alpha Company, 1/1. “Take a MRE spoon poke a hole into it and combine it with 550 cord and the wire and hang the field expedient antenna in anything not conductive to electricity. Before you know it you are back in business communicating with higher. As far as field radios go, it’s actually the best antenna we have in the Marine Corps and it can reach the farthest as far as signal goes.”

The compass, a tool used by Marines for generations proved useful when the Marines needed to get degrees for sectors of fire in a defensive position.

“The compass is extremely reliable,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Lewis, a squad automatic weapon gunner with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company. “Using the compass and the necessary math, it helps me get the exact degrees of my whole area where my rounds will travel. You use that to correspond with other Marines. That way you have interlocking fields of fire and 360 degrees covered by weapons. Of course the compass is good to use for navigation too.”

While using a compass helps Marines know where they are, getting their gear from point A to B can require a skill that dates back to before the Corps had global positioning systems, satellite phones or all terrain vehicles.

For the Corps, it’s nothing new, using older low technology to accomplish the mission in the mountains.

“Here we teach some units and Marines how to pack animals,” said Staff Sgt. Ernesto Hernandez, an instructor with Unit Training Group, MCMWTC. “We teach Marines how to pack horses and mules like they did in the Banana Wars. They can carry your chow, water, gear and weapons. Sometimes you won’t have a helicopter and hiking with those animals is what it takes.”

The Marines of today have improvised and learned valuable lessons from previous generations who had to adapt to the ever changing battlefield.

“I think being a Marine means being resourceful,” said Groves. “You have to think outside the box. I try and think of new ways to tackle problems whenever I go into the field.”

Deploying as part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1/1 will execute a variety of missions in austere conditions, using their ingenuity to get the job done after tempering their skills in the mountains of MCMWTC.

This is part three of an ongoing series highlighting the training 1/1 is conducting at MCMWTC.