POHANG, South Korea - With a foot of snow on the ground, freezing temperatures and less than a month before the start of Marine Expeditionary Force Exercise 2014, 30 Marines arrive at Camp Mujuk Feb. 12 with the task of setting up living quarters for more than 1,200 Marines and a combined operations center to be used by the Republic of Korea Marine Corps and the III MEF Command Element.
Without any living space available, the Marines, with III MEF Headquarters Group, III MEF, took shelter in the Camp Mujuk motor transport bay and got to work clearing snow and setting up tents and life support equipment for living quarters at Camp Mujuk and the COC at the 1st ROK Marine Corps Division Base in Pohang.
“We spent our first week here preparing the living area on Camp Mujuk to receive more Marines,” said Capt. Jason E. Latta, camp commandant of Camp Mujuk for MEFEX 14. “At the time they did not have any containerized billeting available for us so we were setting up general purpose tents as living quarters.”
The brutal weather conditions proved to be an obstacle in the setup process to which the Marines quickly adapted, according to Latta.
“The first tent we set up took four hours, after that the learning curve was very steep,” said Latta. “We got the point where we had ten teams and were able to set up at least nine tents a day. The Marines became so proficient at setting up tents that when setting up additional living quarters at Pohang, they were able to set up 20 tents in a day and a half.”
In order to establish the COC at Pohang, a grid plan had to be established within the space available, according to Gunnery Sgt. Kevin L. Mason, assistant camp commandant of Camp Mujuk for the exercise.
“Once we had laid out a grid, which was in line with the way the MEF command wanted the combined operations center, we were able to start building,” said Mason. “We started off with the Battle-X and the dome of the COC by mapping out a giant ‘X’ in the center of the field where we wanted it to be located and started building from there. We started with the wooden decking to be the floor of the COC and spider webbed out to the rest of the complex.”
By splitting into teams and delegating priorities, Marines were able to accomplish more with the short time they had, according to Maj. Clifford C. Sutcliffe, operations officer with the Exercise Support Group during the exercise.
“In my mind the biggest factor behind the success of getting everything set up for this exercise was being clear on a common objective and how everyone’s role helped complete that objective,” said Sutcliffe. “We have been able to go from having nothing set up about three weeks ago to a fully operational command center and all the Marines to support it.”
The setup process was efficient due to prior planning and preparations, according to Mason.
“We were given our mission goals and with those goals came timelines,” said Mason. “Back on Camp Hansen, we were struggling to meet those timelines. When we came out here, we still had the same timelines to meet, but we were beating those timelines not by hours but by days. With that extra time we had at our disposal, we were able to create a bigger and better product with many more features we had not initially planned.”
The ability to beat the timelines set for them was due to the motivation and hard work of the Marines, according to Mason.
“Whenever you take a small group of Marines and put them in the field in a harsh environment, it is amazing to see how the overall moral of the Marines is much higher than when they are back in garrison with comfortable living conditions,” said Mason. “A common reason many people become Marines is the hope to travel the world and for many of the Marines we brought, this is their first exercise off of Okinawa, their first chance to really come to the field, and they are loving it.”
Despite the harsh conditions Marines have experienced and the monumental tasks they have accomplished, they are still eager to tackle the next task according to Sutcliffe.
“I am impressed by the endurance of all the Marines here,” said Sutcliffe. “Weather has been a constant factor that we face and when the day is over the Marines are not complaining about being tired or worn down and the level of effort they put into each day continues to amaze me.”