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.

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