Photo Information

Col. Michael R. Hudson, commanding officer, left, leads members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s command element on a hike at the 43 Training Area here during the unit’s latest conditioning march Sept. 23.

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Scott Dunn

'Gutsy' hike includes helicopters, Navy partners

23 Sep 2010 | Gunnery Sgt. Scott Dunn 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Over varied terrain here - from loose rocks, to sandy creek beds, to hills and unforgiving asphalt - 80 members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's command element marched eight miles under the California sun Sept. 23, and with Navy company.

Joining the hike was San Antonio-born Navy Capt. Humberto L. Quintanilla II, commander of Amphibious Squadron 5, the squadron that with the 11th MEU will form the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.

"It was a superb experience to join the 'Pride of the Pacific' for their training event," said Quintanilla. "Every American is proud of our Marine Corps, and I had a chance to hike with the men and women that we read about in the news."

The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group is a Navy and Marine Corps team designed to conduct missions that span the overlapping spectrums of peace and combat, from disaster relief to war. The units will deploy together globally with unique assets for timely responses to crises.

"The tensile strength of the 'blue-green' partnership is integral to combat success. The Navy-Marine Corps team continues to win America's wars one lift, one battle, and one crisis at a time. The nation rightfully depends on us to carry the day. And we do. That's the partnership," said Quintanilla. "I look forward to sailing with the 11th MEU in the near future."

With 60 percent of its members new to the unit since the 11th MEU returned from a seven-month deployment in April, the hike bolstered the command element's cohesion in a controlled training environment, said Gunnery Sgt. Robert Lytle, 32, the unit's assistant operations chief.

"The interesting thing about morale, and about esprit de corps, is they tend to appear when the unit suffers together," said Lytle, who hails from Asheville, N.C. "Whatever we were forced to endure - whatever the difficulty - we endured it together. Marines need that sense of accomplishment and to test themselves as far as gut checks go. And we did that."

Lytle said the hard part was not the distance. He said 90-degree temperatures made the hike difficult for the average Marine, and the contrast of soft, almost moondust-fine sand and football-sized rocks made it difficult to get one's footing.

"It caused more of a strain than if we were marching over sturdy terrain," said Lytle.

Pfc. Sammantha Meidl, 20, from New Ulm, Minn., said she had a few minor scrapes after tripping to the ground. She was one among a handful of others who stumbled.

"The Marines around me picked me right back up," said Meidl, a field radio operator. "It's a good feeling when Marines have your back and knowing that I got back up and kept going."

The hike route reversed direction and the hikers marched back the way they came, returning to their start position only to keep marching.

"I wasn't expecting that we had to keep going," said Lance Cpl. Daniel W. Scruggs, 24, from Aston, Pa. "Your body can withstand more pain and discomfort than you realize, and once you do realize that, the rest is just keeping one foot in front of the other."

Lytle said that out of the last four hikes, including a six-miler, an eight-miler and a 10-mile night hike, the unit's latest hike showed the most discipline.

"Marines kept the formation tight and pushed through the mental fatigue. But that's what Marines do: We carry out orders under mental duress," said Lytle. "We showed that ability to hang on."

Helicopters extracted the hikers from the finish at the 43 Training Area and delivered them to the 42 Training Area. Airlift support was provided by two CH-46E helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 and one CH-53E heavy-lift cargo helicopter from Marine Aircraft Group 16.

For Meidl, Scruggs and several others, riding in military aircraft was a first-time experience.

"Right before boarding the helo - walking up to it - was exciting," said Scruggs, a field radio operator who boarded the CH-53E. "Seeing how big it is and feeling the air rushing down was surreal. It's something you see in movies. It was motivating."

Lytle said hiking with the Navy, executing more team building, and working with aviation helped the unit improve its proficiency.

"We showed mental and physical endurance," said Lytle. "The command element came together. But we wouldn't expect it any other way."

Marine Corps News

Colonel Thomas M. Siverts
Commanding Officer

Colonel Tom Siverts is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1989. He achieved a commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program following his graduation from the University of Virginia in May 1999. Colonel Siverts has deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and ENDURING FREEDOM. His other operational deployments include serving with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/8, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU); BLT 3/8, 22d MEU; BLT 2/8, 26th MEU, and Task Force 61/2.

Read Biography

Lieutenant Col. Steven M. Sprigg
Executive Officer

LtCol Sprigg was born in Parkersburg, WV. LtCol Sprigg enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in September 2004 and recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. LtCol Sprigg was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in March 2008. He was designated a Naval Aviator in February 2011 and reported to HMLAT-303 for training as an AH-1W pilot. LtCol Sprigg is currently serving as the Executive Officer for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Camp Pendleton, California.

Read Biography

Sergeant Major Travis L. DeBarr
Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major DeBarr enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD San Diego, CA, for recruit training in October 1994.Staff Sergeant DeBarr completed two combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2005 to April 2006 and again form March 2007 to September 2007. While serving with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, First Sergeant DeBarr completed one combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from October 2012 to May 2013. Sergeant Major DeBarr currently serves as the Sergeant Major for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Read Biography

11th Marine Expeditionary Unit