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    A first for the Corps, 22nd MEU trains in Bulgaria

    22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, Kilo Company Marines Train in Bulgaria

    Photo By Sgt. Justin M. Martinez | Lance Cpl. Jason Palendrano, a team leader with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team,...... read more read more



    Story by Cpl. Justin M. Martinez 

    22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit

    SLIVEN, Bulgaria — Several time zones away from America, thickets of thorns await Marines in a country not many of their brethren have trained in before.

    Marines with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, tackled skills such as land navigation, Military Operations in Urban Terrain and unknown-distance shooting aboard the Nova Selo Training Area in Sliven, Bulgaria, May 28 — June 1.

    Bulgaria and the U.S. are strategic allies and their armies have successfully trained together in the past, though this time was a first for United States Marines.

    Moving a Marine infantry company into a foreign country took much coordination with the American embassy and the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense. Several Marines went ahead of the main group to make liaison so things would be in place when the bulk of the group arrived.

    "I really have to complement the Bulgarian military police," said 1st Lt. Brian D. Green, the executive officer for Kilo Co. and one of the advance party Marines. "They have been highly professional beyond our expectations and it's been an awesome experience."

    Green, a native of Vero Beach, Fla., added that the Bulgarian Base Operations Officer Major Alexandrov did more than asked for by providing a barracks on the joint Bulgarian-American training base on short notice for the Marines to live in during the training.

    "When we first came out here, we thought we would be living in two-man tents," said Green. "Now we are able to sleep in these barracks that are a lot nicer."

    After the Marines settled into the white, four-story Bulgarian army barracks on the first day, some of them headed outside to do a little weapons' maintenance before the main training events started.

    The Marines' method for passing a little down time turned into an opportunity to make friends with the local soldiers.

    "He was staring more at the weapon than he was at me," said Lance Cpl. Joel E. Schram, a Squad Automatic Weapon gunner and a native of Yuma, Ariz. "I knew after being around him only for a few moments that he liked weapons just as much as me."

    Schram said that he enjoyed teaching the Bulgarian soldier how to assemble and disassemble the SAW even through the language barrier.

    "I believe we are here to establish good relations with the Bulgarian army," Schram said.

    The down time was short-lived and soon the Marines were stretching their sea legs on a company march, through the Bulgarian countryside, out to the training sites.

    The separate platoons of the company used a round-robin approach to maximize the time they had on the ranges.

    After waiting for construction crews to safely clear out of the areas next to the firing lanes, the Marines on the small-arms, unknown-distance range used their skills at range estimation to sight in and hit the man-sized silhouettes leading away up the side of the nearby mountain.

    At the same time, but a couple of kilometers away, Marines used aiming stakes posted in the ground to calibrate their compasses in preparation for the next day's land-navigation exercise.

    "This is the best training area we could use for land navigation because we can use terrain association," said 2nd Lt. Michael Fee, a native of Huntington, N.Y., and the 2nd Platoon commander.

    Over the hill from the land-navigation area, Marines practiced patrolling and assaulting through a makeshift town.

    Though the simple concrete-and-rebar, mostly roofless, buildings were not as elaborate as the MOUT towns on most Marine bases, the Marines used them to good effect, honing their skills in room and building-clearing exercises.

    "Training in an unfamiliar territory is beneficial because we can use all the skills we've been taught and put them into action," said Lance Cpl. Scott C. Verry, a SAW gunner and native of Chico, Calif.

    The training culminated in a final "Squad Competition" that included tests of knowledge such as remembering weapons' characteristics and writing a patrol order.

    The Marines also had to prove their skills with communication equipment and make proper radio calls for artillery support and medical evacuation.

    In an event known simply as "Kim's Game," an instructor would momentarily remove and quickly replace a tarp over a collection of random military equipment. Then the squad members would have to identify what was under the tarp.

    The Marines used the different training events to build a brothers-in-arms bond while away from their loved ones stateside.

    "Being in Bulgaria helps you keep that comradery with your squad. You get to learn each other's tactics a lot more," said Cpl. Christopher A. Maristany, a squad leader and Miami native. "These are the only guys we're going to be around for the next six months, so it brings us together."

    Whether for the next six months or the next six years, this training opportunity was an experience the Marines can take with them.

    "It's just great to be able to show these Marines that there's more to the Marine Corps than just going to a sandy place and fighting," said Green.

    The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is a scalable, multi-purpose force of more than 2,200 Marines and sailors. Led by Col. Gareth F. Brandl, the 22nd MEU is composed of its Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and it's Command Element.

    The 22nd MEU, deployed aboard the ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, is currently serving as the theater reserve force for U.S. European Command.



    Date Taken: 06.03.2009
    Date Posted: 06.04.2009 12:44
    Story ID: 34545
    Location: SLIVEN, BG 

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