ABOARD USS TARAWA --
Desert convoy operations training aboard a ship? Absolutely, say Marine instructors here, who are conducting a five-day heavy machine gun employment, desert survival training and field radio operations course.
“Marines can train anywhere,” said Sgt. Andrew G. Mulder, field radio operator instructor, command element, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif. “All it
takes is a little imagination and flexibility.”
Mulder is one of several Marine instructors who take their training seriously and who are spearheading a “shoot, move and communicate refresher” training designed for sergeants aboard the amphibious ship on their deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf region.
“Sergeants are the leaders and the trainers,” so it is natural to have sergeants training sergeants, said CWO3 Robert T. Garcia, officer in charge, command element.
“The intent is to have each sergeant take back these “hip-pocket” (informal) classes and pass on the knowledge to their Marines,” said Garcia. The lessons they learn on the ship will serve as a foundation for their scheduled live-fire desert training the Marines and sailors will receive in the Arabian Gulf region next month.
During the first day, Marines took turns getting behind the trigger of a heavy machine gun on the Tarawa’s hangar bay as the amphibious ship sliced its way through dark blue water of the Pacific Ocean. Most of the sergeants have been on at least one deployment, so most were oblivious to the beauty outside and immune to noxious affect of the swaying deck. Their focus was on the weapon in front of them and the lesson at hand. The instructors reviewed the weapon conditions, safety and employment of the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), M240G Medium Machine Gun and M2 .50 Caliber Heavy Machine and then tested each participant on their ability to break each weapon down, put it back together and dry-fire it.
On day two, some students received an introduction to convoy operations, learned how to conduct individual and vehicle pre-combat checks and inspections, how to plan a convoy and do vehicle preventive maintenance checks and services. On that day, the Marines were taught in the cramped and humid bowels of the ship. The next class they have on this subject will most likely be along a desert road and under a scorching desert sun.
During the third day and communications portion of the course and in the middle of the late afternoon rush hour, two groups of approximately two dozen sergeants were nestled between the gap of the ship’s bulkhead (wall) and the side of a CH53E Super Stallion, listening intently to their instructors.
Due to limited space aboard the ship, this was the only place Mulder, and instructors Sgt. Justin H. Cook, Radio Reconnaissance Team Leader and Cpl. Eric B. Gonzales, field radio operator, could conduct their basic radio operations class. In the middle of the hustle and bustle of daily ship traffic, and despite minor interruptions, the class continued and Marines sent their radio traffic across the distance of a helicopter rather than distance of a desert.
According to Garcia, most Marines have cycled through three of the five elements of the training since the course began Nov. 24.
No desert on a ship. No problem, say the Marines. The high heat and humidity of the ship’s hangar bay can make a Marine sweat just as much as the desert. It makes a “good enough” training environment to conduct the fourth event, desert survivability and troop leading steps, said Mulder.
During the final day, the sergeants will learn about the parts of an operations and convoy orders. The class will be broken up into groups and the teams will have to work together to develop a convoy operations order and then brief it to their peers. The peer group interaction will help the sergeants develop their leadership skills. Leadership development is important to us because the sergeants will be running the show when the MEU goes ashore, said Garcia.
According to Garcia, there is another purpose to the course.
“We have supply, communications, administration, logistics and intelligence Marines here. Each has different abilities and brings something different to the table,” he said. “We want them to come together, back each other up and help each other improve.”