CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF OPERATIONS -- After two weeks of rigorous training, the Marines lay poised behind their weapons on a ridgeline overlooking the battlefield.
From here the Marines of Company I, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), watch the beginnings of the battle unfold. As they wait for the signal to engage, a plethora of MEU assets -- infantry, tanks, Amphibious Assault Vehicles, Light Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles and helicopters -- can be seen advancing in the desert's horizon, ready to attack a notional enemy force during the 11th MEU's final live-fire exercise here.
?The final exercise brought all the parts of the BLT together into one combined attack. We got to work more as a whole unit,? said 2nd Lt. Trusten Connor, 3rd Platoon Commander, Company I, BLT 3/1, 11th MEU (SOC).
Bringing a battalion-sized force together to fight successfully did not happen immediately. Rather, Marines began their two weeks in the field with training focused on a much smaller scale. Scattered on ranges throughout the desert in the U.S. Central Command region, the Marines began to refine their battle skills at the small unit level.
?We did squad, platoon and company attacks in preparation for this final exercise. Start small, finish big,? Connor said. ?It helps to build confidence in the Marines with live fire, showing them what it is like to have that responsibility.?
Responsibility for things such as clearing a simulated minefield with a line charge made up of more than 1,000 pounds of explosives. In real battle, such action could mean the difference between success and failure in a unit's mission. Not to mention, the sight of 1,000 pounds of explosives blowing up is not something usually seen before by most junior Marines.
?The Marines got to see and do a lot of things they very seldom get to experience. It was nice for them to see an assault at the battalion-level with air support and all the other elements involved,? Connor said.
As tanks fired their main gun and AAVs fired their heavy machineguns, infantry Marines advanced and called in artillery and mortars on the "enemy" position. A Huey helicopter swooped down firing rockets as LAVs sped forward, firing away. The combination of firepower was the result of coordination planned well above the squad level.
?Working with all the assets involved in the assault was great. It?s a good chance for us to see everyone else?s role in an battalion-level assault,? said Pfc. Matt Christenson, grenadier, 1st Platoon, Company I, BLT 3/1, 11th MEU (SOC).
Bringing the training to a close, the final exercise validated two-weeks of arduous training as well as providing the junior Marines a valuable experience.
"As a MAGTF we integrate our forces into a combined arms team and focus our combat power against an adversary at a precise time and location," said Col Anthony M. Haslam, commanding officer, 11th MEU (SOC). "This synchronization on the battlefield the is key to our success. As Marines we work to perfect this daily and this FINEX gave us the opportunity, in a live-fire environment, to bring it all together."