News: Geronimo Battalion prepares for pivot to Pacific during weeklong exercise
Story by Sgt. Jacob Harrer
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - It’s a scene that looked like old films of Marines fighting in the Pacific as dozens of young men stepped off the ramp of an amphibious boat and waded through knee-deep ocean water. Though the trek to the beach was only 100 meters, the Marines carried their weapons and ammunition, as well as packs bulging with equipment. Sweating, sandy and wet, they set up defense positions, organized themselves, and radioed reports to headquarters.
The complex logistics of the amphibious landing challenged the Marines as they moved to shore. It was only the beginning of a weeklong exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., for 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The Marine Corps Combat Readiness Exercise required the battalions, companies and platoons to plan and execute the tasks they are expected to accomplish as infantry units, including amphibious operations.
Amphibious training is reemerging in the Marine Corps as part of the U.S. strategic pivot to the Pacific. After more than a decade of fighting and training for land combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, infantry battalions within 1st Marine Division have reincorporated amphibious scenarios in their training events.
The MCCRE, with its amphibious scenario, is part of a growing trend among the division’s infantry battalions. The Marines are deploying on longer tours aboard U.S. Navy amphibious ships as part of Marine Expeditionary Units, so amphibious training is crucial to future operations.
“I think it’s an exciting time for 1st Battalion, 5th Marines,” said Maj. Benjamin J. Fiala, 5th Marine Regiment air officer and the MCCRE exercise control officer. “They haven’t necessarily seen amphibious training in a while, so it’s good. We’re busting some rust out here with all the detailed planning that goes into ship to shore movement.”
To have a successful landing, the Marines and Navy must work together to develop detailed plans, said Maj. Brian D. Greene, 5th Marines operations officer. Coordinating with the Navy is the most important part of the planning, and the regiment started planning 90 days early, in November 2013.
The Marines enlisted the help of Navy amphibious support units such as Assault Craft Unit 1, Assault Craft Unit 5 and Beachmaster Unit One. Those units provided amphibious shipping and communications for the exercise, including Land Crafts Air Cushioned and Landing Crafts Utility. The Sailors and Marine talked regularly, worked out the details of the landing and shared that information down through the ranks.
Greene said the platoon and company commanders developed the landing plans, and he stressed how crucial it was for each Marine in the exercise to understand the mission.
“You have to know your assets,” said Greene, a native of Gaithersburg, Md., and a 1993 graduate of Quince Orchard High School. “Working with Navy is different than Army or Marines. You have to understand needs and designs of the Navy, and you must coordinate early and often. You’ve got to think through how you’re going to bring in your troops and their gear in a specific order.”
Depending on the mission, Marines can unload troops, ammunition or fuel. The presence of enemy forces on the beach could turn the exercise into an “opposed landing”. The MCCRE included enemy role players from 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, so the Marines had to prepare for thinking and reacting opponents.
“There is no faking the funk out here,” said Fiala, a native of Durango, Colo. “They are going to be forced to go out there, and there’s an enemy that’s going to be hunting them.”
For the Marines of Cherokee Company who had just landed on the beach, there was little time for rest. Their objective required a nine-kilometer foot march and a zone reconnaissance to clear out potential enemy forces. The Marines oriented themselves to the new terrain and moved forward.
“The amphibious piece is just the start of that operation, and there’s a lot more fighting to go,” said Greene. “It’s hard when you start off something so complex and then go into the hills and fight a no-kidding enemy.”
Over the next few days, 1st Bn., 5th Marines will continue seizing terrain and practicing the skills expected of them as part of the nation’s amphibious force in readiness. Just like the battalion that looks over the horizon at the next objective, 1st Marine Division is preparing for its future, while revisiting its past, in the Pacific.