YUMA, Ariz. --
Flames erupted from the business ends of 60 mm mortars as machine- gun teams let loose volley after volley from a hilltop overlooking a raid site. Overhead, aircraft with 500-pound bombs and heavy machine guns destroyed targets.
The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s air and ground combat elements converged on a mock enemy camp during a long-range heliborne raid at the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range here Aug. 2. The raid signaled the end of the MEU’s second training exercise conducting missions from the sea before it deploys to the Western Pacific Ocean.
“The raid was the biggest combined exercise we’ve done during the at-sea periods,” said Cpl. Michael Ayup, the mortar section leader with Company E, Battalion Landing Team 2/4.
Seconds after CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters touched down in the Yuma desert, Company E Marines, calling themselves Raid Force Easy, ran into the darkness hefting machine guns and mortars.As the mortarmen prepped high-explosive rounds, machine-gun teams atop a rock-covered hill loaded ammunition.
Bullets and mortars from the Marine positions hit their marks, striking targets on distant hills.
Then the air show began.
From an elevated position, a forward air controller called in strikes from AV-8B Harriers and machine gun fire from helicopters.
“The communication was key,” said Ayup, a Los Angeles native. “We would fire and shut off fires so the helicopters could come through, then resume.”
Company commander Capt. Chris Stark said the cohesion between his company and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), the MEU’s air combat element, is the best it’s been since they started training, and his men conducted “the best raid we’ve done all workup.”
MEU operations officer Lt. Col. Robert Rice said during these deployment workups the unit works through complexities with Navy counterparts to facilitate live-fire shoots and raids. He said the latest at-sea exercise challenged the MEU with different mission profiles focused on night operations.
The next workup for the MEU is a certification exercise, or CertEx, which Rice said is the opportunity for the unit to show its capabilities to deploy.
“Last night we pretty much baked the cake,” Ayup said. “During CertEx, we are going to put the icing on it before we go on deployment.”