News: Highlanders lead way in Exercise Steel Knight 2014
Story by Lance Cpl. Christopher J. Moore
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – Light Armored Reconnaissance Marines are often the tip of the spear in combat environments, conducting operations several hundred miles in front of friendly troops. To effectively complete their missions, they must always remain a force in readiness. Marines with Delta Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, nicknamed the Highlanders, demonstrated this in support of Exercise Steel Knight 2014, Dec. 10 through 16.
Steel Knight is an annual exercise that includes elements from the entire I Marine Expeditionary Force. The exercise focuses on conventional operations and provides realistic training that prepares Marines for overseas operations.
“This is a perfect opportunity for us to get out here and work on the finer skills of conventional warfare,” said Capt. Christopher Gaitens, the commanding officer of Delta Co. “It’s a great opportunity for small unit leaders to hone their craft and make sure their Marines are prepared for the next mission.”
During the training, the Marines executed tactical movements, vehicle maneuvers and fired mortar systems mounted on their vehicles. The Marines conducted live fire exercises and learned how to properly handle their weapon systems in case something goes wrong.
“Everything is great when we’re doing dry runs and there are no live rounds associated with it,” said Gaitens, who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. “But when we give them live rounds, there is an uncomfortable feeling of hesitation, which this training knocks out of them. They become more comfortable with maneuvering with live rounds and trusting their weapon systems.”
The most important thing the Marines took away from this training was their mindset for their individual actions, said Gaitens, a native of Philadelphia. The small unit leaders maximized all of their time during the exercise so they could properly train the junior Marines to take over for them.
The Marines battled the austere weather conditions during the week they were at the base. They accurately fired their mortar systems in sleet followed by rain and slept outside in their sleeping bags, while temperatures dropped below freezing with winds up to 30 miles per hour.
“It’s definitely been challenging,” said Sgt. Jacey Marks, a chief scout with Alpha Company, 1st LAR. “It’s been raining and sleeting on us, but we have to adapt and overcome to get the job done. We’ve been working as a team to solve whatever task we’ve been given.”
Going through the difficult training built camaraderie between the Marines, said Marks, a native of Lewiston, Idaho. The entire crew for each vehicle took part in the exercise, which strengthened their bond and sense of brotherhood.
Through the harsh weather conditions and challenging training, the Marines with 1st LAR successfully completed Steel Knight and are scheduled to deploy on a marine expeditionary unit next summer.
With its mobility, training and readiness, the battalion is prepared to be the tip of the spear for any friendly force.