The armored vehicle careened through the woods, throwing the 14 Marines inside of it on top of each other. The Marines, weighed down by body armor and their weapons, were slow to pick themselves up and return to their seats. Many of them had been half asleep before being jostled about.
The squad had spent nearly an hour sitting shoulder to shoulder inside of the assault amphibious vehicle that was transporting them to the objective. It was pitch black inside except for a few rays of light spilling in from the driver’s station. The roar of the vehicle’s engine was almost deafening, eliminating the idea of small talk. The Marines passed the time by eating sunflower seeds, staring at the floor or trying to catch up on some sleep.
Moments later, the Marines tapped each other on the shoulder and held two fingers just inches in front of each other’s faces, meaning they would be reaching the objective in two minutes. Each Marine pulled a magazine from their ammo pouches and slapped it firmly inside the magazine weld of their rifles.
The AAV came to a stop at the edge of a small town. The Marines stood and faced the rear of the vehicle. One of the crewmen slowly lowered the ramp as the Marines’ eyes squinted to adjust to the nearly-blinding sunlight that illuminated the inside of the vehicle. The door opened and shots began to ring out from buildings inside the town. The squad leader, Cpl. James Treusch, stepped out of the vehicle and immediately began directing the Marines to fighting positions at the edge of a cluster of buildings.
This was the beginning of a mechanized raid exercise being conducted by Marines and sailors of Company K, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 8 through 18.
The exercise was designed to simulate a scenario where the 26th MEU would conduct a raid on an objective while at sea. Marines would travel from ship to shore and from shore to the objective while riding in AAV’s. In this particular scenario, the objective was a small town being occupied by enemy forces.
The raid was a blueprint for a wide variety of missions that a MEU could execute while deployed, according to Staff Sgt. John McFarling, an instructor with Special Operations Training Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
“It’s basically using the (AAVs) to conduct a swift attack with a predetermined, specific mission and planned withdrawal,” said McFarling, a native of Winfield, Ala. “It’s not taking an objective and holding it for an extended period of time. It’s coming in there, hitting the objective, doing what needs to be done whether that’s capturing a high-value target, getting some (intelligence), recovering weapons…whatever the scenario may be. It’s getting what we need and then leaving. We’re not holding any ground – we’re leaving.”
McFarling is one of many instructors at SOTG who helped train the Marines of the 26th MEU throughout the exercise. The SOTG provides training in select special skills, conducts and evaluates collective training in order to prepare MEUs for deployment. The instructors have been pulled from a variety of different billets throughout the infantry field and each have multiple combat deployments under their belts. It is their job to make sure everyone, from the private running point for his squad to the pilots flying helicopters in the sky, knows what their mission is and how to accomplish it. Each individual element of the MEU is provided with an instructor whom is a subject matter expert concerning the tasks that have been given to that element.
“Training with SOTG allows the company to integrate all the supporting assets we would typically have deployed as a MEU,” said 1st Lt. Grant Hundley, the executive officer for Kilo Company. “They have done this many times before. Their experience in raid operations means that our squads, our platoons and our company gets a very specific training package tailored to the types of operations we may be conducting from the 26th MEU.”
During the raid, the instructors, with clipboards in hand, walked among the Marines of Kilo Company as they assaulted the town and evaluated them on their performance. Many of them would often stop, providing one-on-one coaching to Marines on the spot if they saw them doing something that could be improved.
Once the raid was over and the Marines returned to their base campsite, the instructors would meet with each of the unit leaders and evaluate them on their performance.
“They’ve been very helpful,” said 2nd Lt. Jeshua Alston, a platoon commander in Kilo Company. “They’ve had more of a mentor role. We learn from them. They give us their advice on things and how we could improve our performance as a raid force.”
“All the after action reports are extremely helpful as well. That’s where we have to bring it all together and we learn and we talk about what we could’ve done differently to improve for the next run.”
Currently, 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines is training with SOTG for their upcoming deployment to the Mediterranean Region in 2013.
Article by Cpl. Bryan Nygaard, II Marine Expeditionary Force