Tuesday, February 8, 2011

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.

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