RAS AL GHAR, Saudi Arabia -- Marines from B Company arrived here at dusk. The sun was no longer high in the sky, instead it had fallen behind the horizon of the Saudi Arabian desert.
The Marines and sailors from Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), were greeted by the all-too familiar heat and a prayer blaring from the outside speakers of the base mosque; the Muslims call to Allah.
With the prayer still hanging in the air and echoing prayers coming from other mosques miles away, a platoon-sized contingent of Marines stood in formation at the position of attention, waiting for their company commander.
“We’re here to do what the MEU was originally designed to do,” said Capt. Philip Waggoner, B Company commander.
The Marines came to the barren region to conduct bilateral training exercises with the Saudi Arabia Marines, June 2-8.
“We want to make an impact on them,” said Waggoner.
Prior to 2003 and Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was very common for Marine expeditionary units to conduct this type of training in various foreign countries including those in the Middle East.
Bravo Company trained alongside the Saudi Marines and instructed them in close quarters marksmanship, urban patrols, night operations, room clearing and military operations in urban terrain.
“These Saudi Marines are still going through their basic training. They are becoming familiar with their weapon systems and doing other training similar to boot camp training,” said Cpl. James R. Helms, fire team leader, 3rd platoon. “You could tell by their shooting that they improved since we got here.”
Helms, a Big Spring, Texas native, trained the Saudi Marines in the advanced marksmanship classes. Like the rest of his fellow U.S. Marines he experienced the barrier that is inevitable in bilateral exercises with foreign military - the language barrier.
"That comes with the territory,” said Helms about the difficulties in communication with his counterparts.
“Eventually the Marines found a common ground and from that found the similarities between each other,” said Gunnery Sgt. Dennis Collins, B Company gunnery sergeant. “But an experience like this opens eyes and helps you get a better perspective.”
“This is definitely an exciting and new experience for Bravo,” said Sgt. Gregory Henry, squad leader, Weapons Platoon. “It’s a good opportunity for them as well. We train hard and the Saudi Marines see our work ethic and they emulate it. We’re very fortunate to be a part of this, helping the Saudi Marines.”
Although they only spent a few days in Saudi Arabia, the Marines took with them the unique experience of training with the Saudi Marines. They lived with them, ate the same meals and shared the bond of being comrades in fighting the war against terrorism.