GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa - Just about every night around dusk, two opponents meet in the open fog.
“They back up about 50 feet, and then they head butt,” explained Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Hurley, ammunition chief with Ammo Company, Greenville, S.C. “That’s our entertainment out here.”
They don’t have TV, or, electricity for that matter, but they do have the fights.
Well past a pock-marked dirt road impassible in anything without four-wheel drive, at the end of what can’t be considered a road at all, is the work place of Hurley and his Marines.
The ammo supply point, little more than a series of storage containers stitched together with camouflage tarps, is a gray-brown speck swallowed up by the hilly green expanse of the 6th South African Infantry Battalion Field Training Area. There they pass out rounds to the approximately 600 Marines and South African National Defense Force soldiers training together as part of an annual bi-lateral military exercise and humanitarian mission – Exercise Shared Accord 2011.
The blesbok, a type of brownish-red, horned antelope, roam free across the training area and routinely lock horns the time of year. The ASP, it seems, was built on a battlefield.
“It’s basically so that the stronger ones have the mate and the territory and the weaker ones get kicked out,” said SANDF Armor Lt. Col. Chris Putter.
The lighter, more agile springbok, prominently displayed on the South African National Rugby Team’s flag, are also commonly seen. Together, the two species number in the hundreds in and around the training area.
“On all of our ranges there is game and we have to protect them,” explained Chief Warrant Officer J. J. Kemp, sergeant major of the 4-3 SA Brigade.
Wild animals like the antelope manage to thrive in and around SA training areas, despite the constant gunfire and explosions, because the SA run constant anti-poaching patrols and follow strict environmental rules, Kemp explained.
Most every SA army unit has an officer or senior enlisted tasked as the environmental manager and individual troops are issued environmental conduct cards upon entering different training areas.
“It is a soldier’s responsibility to protect the environment,” Kemp added.
Cpl. Tim Dean, a fire direction controller with D Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, stays a horizon away from the ammo point in one of the dozens of camouflage or olive-drab two-man tents that dot the camp stretched out behind the units’ row of Light Armored Vehicles.
Two of his fire watch Marines remember seeing a string of springbok attempt to jump the wire fence a hundred yards out from the tents in the dead of night. The first two made it over fine, they said, while the third ran full tilt into the fence before backing up and trying again, remembering to jump and successfully joining the others.
“They jump over it like it’s nothing,” said Dean, motioning to the 8-foot fence behind him.
The springbok get plenty of practice during the South African spring and summer months when they bounce around in apparent celebration of their new offspring.
“They’re just showing off,” laughed Kemp.
The training area is also home to warthogs and jackals. It even hosts monkeys known in the Afrikaans language as “blue monkeys” because of their distinctly colored genitals. None number as high as the antelope, and none come as close to the Marines.
“One of the things we have all been struck by is how bold and unafraid these animals are,” said Dean. “They kind of look at you like, ‘what are you doing here?’ like we’re the ones imposing.”
|Date Posted:||07.27.2011 09:09|
This work, Where the Marines and the antelope play: Marines share South African training area with herds of blesbok, springbok, by Cpl Jad Sleiman, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.