CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait -- Within minutes of exiting their vehicles and engaging their targets, Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, (Special Operations Capable) destroyed their simulated enemy with a hail of fire from small and crew-served weapons during a combined-arms live-fire exercise at the Udairi Range here.
The 11th MEU (SOC) is conducting desert sustainment training exercises here as part of their six-month deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
According to Capt. Sean M. Roche, company commander, Company A, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, Calif., also known as the “BLT 1/4 Alpha Raiders,” the purpose of the training was to sharpen the company’s war-fighting skills and to develop their future leaders.
Of the two, leadership development was the most important of the training objectives, said Sgt. Brian R. Jackson, machine gun section leader, weapons platoon. “You can teach anybody how to pull a trigger. Teaching someone how to lead, that’s the hard part.”
Since the battalion is preparing for the possibility of going to Iraq next year, the Alpha Raiders took the opportunity to cross-train Marines in the position they will take on during the next deployment, said 1st Lt. Theo L. Williams, weapons platoon commander. The forward observers trained Marines how to accurately call for fire, as Marines practiced firing mortars, while Marines experienced with crew served weapons mentored those who will carry those weapons into possible combat in Iraq. Senior squad leaders stepped into the platoon sergeant roles, a platoon sergeant into the company gunnery sergeant role and so on, up the chain of command.
Prior to taking part in the exercise, the Marines received a weapons safety brief from Gunnery Sgt. Michael J. West, acting company gunnery sergeant, and other Marine instructors. During the brief, the Marines were quizzed about the range and weapon safety rules and the proper procedures in the event of a weapon malfunction. The safety and the well being of the Marines were his main concerns, said West.
Training personnel used such an extensive array of weaponry “to add realism and stress to the environment,” said Staff Sgt. Joel C. Miller, assault section leader, Alpha Raiders. “We wanted to make it as close to combat as possible.”
During the weapons shoot, a platoon of Marines riding in two up-armored humvee “gun” trucks and a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement, seven-ton truck, practiced dismounting their vehicles in four-man fire teams and advanced through the desert using prescribed assault tactics, techniques and procedures. The teams advanced in intervals as each took turns providing security for the others as they assaulted forward. Once they reached an imaginary line in the desert, the Marines engaged their targets and let loose with a barrage of grenades, small arms and ground and vehicle mounted machine gun fire.
Firing multiple weapons at once “was a good opportunity to teach leaders to coordinate fires within squads and coordinate squad fires within sections and to teach younger Marines the importance of conserving [ammunition],” said Jackson. “You don’t want to blow your ammo and not have enough for a counter attack.”
As the Marines fired, Cpl. Nathan T. Filip, machinegun squad leader, kept his eye on the guns for safety reasons and to ensure the Marines were doing the drills properly. Filip, who has served two combat tours in Iraq, said he made sure the Marines maintained the correct rates of fire in order to conserve ammo and to prevent damage to the weapons from heat caused by excessive rates of fire.
“My job was to observe and correct the Marines and to pass on as much knowledge as I could because these Marines may be going to Iraq,” said Filip after the exercise.
According to Williams, there are many Marines like Filip in the company. “Some of them are on their third deployment and some have served two combat tours in Iraq. The experience they bring to the company is immeasurable.” So it is critical for the company to glean as much knowledge from them as possible before they move on to other assignments or leave the Marine Corps, he said.
Combat-experienced Marines bring an extra dimension to the exercise, said 1st Lt. Robert W. Davis, forward observer, headquarters platoon. “They can take the junior or less-experienced Marines aside and tell them what they will most likely see, hear and feel in combat.” This is something that you cannot learn in a book or in a static exercise, he said.
According to Lance Cpl. Derek D. Thomas, machine gunner, weapons platoon, overall, the training was outstanding. Having combat veterans guiding him and having the opportunity to learn his supervisor’s job has been the best part, he said. “You just never know when you’re going to have to step up and take that position in a combat situation.”