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    Alpha Company, the original Marine Raiders

    Alpha Company, the original Marine Raiders

    Photo By Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani | Third Platoon Commander 1st Lt. Emeka Amaeze is an infantry officer with Alpha...... read more read more

    OKINAWA, JAPAN

    04.30.2019

    Story by Lance Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani 

    31st Marine Expeditionary Unit       

    “When you’re part of a boat company, you’re one of a select few,” says Third Platoon Commander 1st Lt. Emeka Amaeze Jr., an infantry officer with the original Raiders of Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. These small cohesive units of infantrymen, regularly operating aboard Combat Rubber Raiding Craft, bear one of the richest histories and most unique designations in the Marine Corps.

    “Not too many Marines can say they are, or ever were, a Raider,” says Amaeze. That’s because Alpha Company is currently the only expeditionary boat company in the Marine Corps, having earned their qualification building, handling, and piloting CRRCs at an especially rigorous course in Coronado, California. “It sucked, but honestly it’s the suck that makes us a lot tighter than any other unit or company,” says Cpl. Andre Balseca, an infantry rifleman with the Alpha Company Raiders. “Carrying CRRCs for miles on our shoulders, being crammed together in the cold for boat raids spanning several days, it’s probably one of the best and hardest things I’ve had to do. We go through everything together.” The Marines leave Coronado in “very strong, small, close working teams,” says Amaeze, “we boil down to the essentials; we’re a very small unit now, just as we’ve always been.”

    The Marines of Alpha Company spent their most recent deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit simulating boat raids throughout the Indo-Pacific region, the proving ground of the original Marine Raider Battalions. “During World War II, the Marine Corps had specific operational needs in the Pacific theater,” says Sgt. Bailey Fulmer, first squad leader for First Platoon with Alpha Company. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s sudden entrance into the fight, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to create an elite unit of Marines modeled after Winston Churchill’s British Commandos, designed to carry out raids against German-occupied Europe. “They needed an amphibious light infantry that could move quickly, operating behind enemy lines,” says Fulmer. Under direction of the President, Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, approved the name “Raiders” and created the 1st and 2nd Marine Raider Battalions.

    “It was a volunteer force,” says Cpl. J.T. Bartschi, second squad leader of First Platoon. “They asked for people to take advantage of the chance to do something special.” A total of 8,078 handpicked individuals would go on to spearhead the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. “They were the first to bring the fight to the Japanese,” says Bartschi, in reference to Battle of Tulagi performed in conjunction with the assault on Guadalcanal, the first American offensive in the Pacific during World War II. In less than two days, the 1st Raiders amphibiously inserted and annihilated the occupying Japanese force.

    They fought most notably in the Battle of Edson’s Ridge, where Lt. Col. Merritt A. Edson, in command of 1st Raiders, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions of selflessness and bravery during their defense of Henderson Airfield on Guadalcanal. Here, 800 Marines withstood the determined assaults of over 3,000 Japanese. “Being small doesn’t make us any less capable, it makes us more lethal,” says Amaeze. “We work better, harder, more efficiently because we have a special trust and reliance on one another when we operate.”

    Decades later, it’s still standard for Alpha Company to utilize boat paddles in shallow waters approaching an objective, mirroring their predecessors who lacked the convenience of gasoline powered engines. “We are always fighting to earn the paddle, because it means you’ve put in the work,” says Amaeze, in reference to the squad competitions to win the hallowed Raider’s paddle. “It’s never given for the asking. Once you’ve earned that paddle, you carry it with you wherever you go.”

    The only artifact more cherished than the Raider’s paddle is Alpha Company’s guidon, one of the only guidons in the Marine Corps authorized to bear its own device. The device evolved from the original patch design; five stars of the Southern Cross constellation, surrounding a skull centered on a red diamond atop a blue shield background, whose inception is often mistakenly attributed to Marine Special Operations Command, was actually first introduced by Cpl. Charles J. Hedinger with Headquarters Company, 1st Marine Raider Battalion in April 1943. Over 60 years later, MARSOC would claim the device and namesake of the original Raiders, paying homage to the legends of the 1st and 2nd Raiders before the Battalions were deactivated due to the changing nature of combat in the Pacific.

    As emphasis shifted to increasingly massive amphibious assault tactics of heavily fortified enemy positions, the Marine Corps deemed that the Raiders had outlived their role as a light waterborne strike force. Following the redesignation of the 1st Raiders to 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in February 1944, the men would go on to serve honorably alongside their brothers in Guam and Okinawa, the final struggles before the end of World War II in 1945.

    Today, the Alpha Company Raiders are all that remain of the original Raider boat companies. Nevertheless, the modern Raiders fight harder than ever to carry on the legacy of their forefathers. “Today, we train in the same maritime environment that they fought in,” says Fulmer. “It’s necessary and useful to consider our history, because our fates are closely aligned with our predecessors.” The boat raids of their last deployment are only a handful of the many training exercises routinely presented to the Raiders, challenging their technical proficiency and personal grit in the face of obstacles. “There is a heavy weight on our shoulders,” says Fulmer. “It’s the push that gets you through the suck, during a CRRC run when the weight is digging into your back. The guys of World War II, who came before us, we have to keep that fire alive.”

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 04.30.2019
    Date Posted: 05.30.2019 01:53
    Story ID: 319989
    Location: OKINAWA, JP
    Hometown: CHICAGO, IL, US

    Web Views: 6,882
    Downloads: 0

    PUBLIC DOMAIN