CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF OPERATION -- The Marines sit silently, anticipating the unknown battle situation they are about to encounter.
Packed like sardines in a tin, they don't move for fear of disrupting the tolerable level of discomfort they have attained from being squished against each other.
Sweat drips off of their faces and the musky smell of sweat-soaked uniforms and equipment fills the back of the dark Amphibious Assault Vehicle in which they ride.
With a sudden jerk the AAV begins to move. It accelerates rapidly and screams across the desert during squad and platoon attack training. The Marines inside sway and bounce with the rocking of the vehicle.
The training, conducted for two weeks in late August, was a chance for the Marines of Company L, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), to hone their skills in attacking fortified positions.
"It is exactly the training we need to rehearse for in a situation where we don't know what is in the trench over the next hill," said Staff Sgt. David Wilson, platoon sergeant, 3rd Platoon.
These ranges provide an unfamiliar and perfect training ground, unlike the training ranges of Camp Pendleton, Calif., which are well known to Lima Co. Marines.
"The training gives us the chance to come together as a platoon with all the different components," said Lance Cpl. Brandon Hart, team leader, Weapons Platoon. "It really brings everybody together and it will definitely help us later down the line if we have to do an actual assault."
While the scenery is new to the Marines, the training isn?t. They've done it time and time again, preparing for the day when they may be called upon to do it for real.
After what seems like eternity in the back of the tracked beast, the Marines are jolted forward by a sudden stop.
The back ramp begins to lower and immediately the bright desert sun blasts through, momentarily blinding everyone. As the ramp continues downward, their eyes begin to adjust to the drastic change in environment.
The warriors stand, as best they can in the confined space, and begin to quickly file down the ramp and out onto the rock infested sand. Without delay, they instinctively form into their squads and set up a security perimeter.
Once everyone has debarked the AAV, the Marines step off at a quick but cautious pace to their objective point several hundred yards away.
Distance heavy machine gun fire and muffled explosions are heard. These sounds of war come from a Marine support-by-fire position two hilltops away. The fire from this position suppresses any hazards that might await the advancing warriors.
The Marines stop just before cresting a hill. Two Marines on the far right of the group load their Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon. The gunner brings the weapon onto his shoulder as his assistant gunner makes sure the back-blast area is clear. He gives the all-clear signal and the weapon fires.
A monstrous explosion of sand and rocks blankets the area, including the SMAW gunners, when the rocket takes off toward its objective. Before the dust even has a moment to settle, another boom echoes throughout the area. The rocket blast on target is a signal for the Marines to rush the enemy fortification.
The Marines enhance their skills of listening and watching for clues about when to make their next move throughout the training.
"Each Marine is thinking about what's going on around him because certain events trigger other events to happen," Wilson said. "Each Marine needs to know what cue triggers him to make his next move so the mission can be accomplished."
The Marines press forward at the signal to take the next step in their assault. But one more obstacle stands in their way--razor sharp concertina wire surrounds their objective. A Marine rushes forward and places a stick of C-4 plastic explosive between the wires. He runs back to a safe position with the rest of the group. They lay face down in the rocks and sand to protect themselves from the blast more than 25 feet away.
"Thirty seconds!" someone yells from the group. Time ticks away on the explosive's fuse as "Five seconds!" is called out. Everyone braces for the detonation.
Right on the mark, an enormous roar rips through the desert range as the C-4 rips apart the concertina wire, allowing the Marines to rush through. After breaking through the barrier, they immediately start clearing a trench. Each Marine scans the trench with his weapon, firing round upon round into the enemy post. Ensuring there is no longer danger lurking in the corners of the trench, they jump in and use the protection of the walls for themselves.
Machine gun fire crackles throughout the area as the training pushes on.
"Grenade up!" is yelled. A Marine scrambles to the top of the trench, slightly away from the rest of his squad. He pulls a grenade out of his war gear. Gripping it tightly in his right hand, he pulls the pin.
He lobs it far into another enemy position. A few seconds later, the explosion is heard as a cloud of sand rolls over the trench.
The Marines push forward, clearing more trenches and using more rockets and explosives to clear a path through the fortification--all within a matter of minutes.
Breaking completely through the enemy encampment, they still press forward, setting up another security perimeter as they call on the radio for their ride.
Rolling over hills in the distance, the AAVs swiftly maneuver toward the awaiting warriors.
With a quick stop, the ramps to the AAVs are lowered and the Marines file into the vehicles squad by squad, still scanning the surrounding area for possible hazards.
Everyone is loaded, packed again like sardines. The ramp closes and darkness overtakes the passenger area of the vehicle.
With a jolt they are moving, speeding across the desert back to their base camp. Their mission successful, the Marines continue preparing themselves for their next mission, whatever or wherever that may be.