POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, HI, UNITED STATES
POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii - Gunfire rang out all around riflemen as they sprinted up and down rollercoaster terrain, laden with lava rock and contorted, grey vegetation.
An Australian soldier bellowed at his men to run faster. They moved in squads, faces beaded with sweat and ballistic eye glasses fogged up from the breathless advance. Live gunfire could be heard from every corner of the simulated battle space.
U.S. Marines with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, as well as Malaysian marines and Australian soldiers assigned to the 5th Royal Australian Regiment, partnered to train at the Infantry Platoon Battle Course at Range 10, Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 20, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.
The Pohakuloa Training area sits 6,000 feet above sea level and rests in a valley between three peaks on the Big Island of Hawaii. Range 10 is a long stretch of tough terrain that leads into a series of trenches wrapping around a large hill.
“Combine the surface of the moon with Mordor and add a little bit of Mars in there, and you get a good idea of what Range 10 is like,” said Lance Cpl. Justin Oates, a machine gunner with weapons platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. “It’s pretty hilly, there are giant rocks all over the place. It’s a lava field.”
The Malaysian marines were the first to “go hot” on the range and were guided by U.S. Marine personnel safety officers who walked with each squad and attachment, ensuring the range ran smoothly and without any safety violations. Next were the Australians, and in the late afternoon, U.S. Marines with third platoon, Lima Co.
Oates and his fellow machine gunners set up in support by fire positions along the range, taking down targets ahead of advancing Malaysian marines.
Once troops make it through the trench system, they consolidate at a drop off, where they stand on the receiving end of a simulated counter attack and take out simulated bunkers with fragmentation grenades. It’s here where live-fire rockets are employed on tank targets roughly 300 meters away.
For Pvt. Dylan Baker, an Australian soldier assigned to the 5th RAR, the range proved difficult, but rewarding.
“Range 10 is pretty brutal,” said Baker. “The hills are steep and the terrain is rough. You’re sucking in air because of the altitude.”
When the Australians made it to the consolidation point at the end of the range, they were panting and soaked in sweat. Baker said that despite the conditions and all the weight an infantryman has to run with, “It’s all good fun.”
“I like my job because it’s always changing in the field,” he said. “I get to work with new people, working with you guys (U.S. Marines), Tongans, Malaysians … it’s all new experiences that you wouldn’t get as a civilian.”
For Oates, working with the Australians and Malaysians was a good time to swap experience.
“We trade a wealth of experience and knowledge. It’s been a great experience seeing how they do things. The Malaysians are a good group of guys,” said Oates. “They’re all extremely funny and genuine. Running Range 10 … They just took off and didn’t stop.”
Laughter echoed out among the troops as they made their way back to the range staging area after the range “went cold.”
“You get done with a range and the best feeling in the world is taking your flak jacket off and rolling your shoulders (out),” said Oates.
Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, about 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 26 to Aug. 1 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971.
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This work, US Marines, International partners take Range 10, by Sgt Matthew Callahan, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.