MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – A chilling breeze swept across Camp Wilson, as the sun started to gleam over the steeply sloped Californian mountains of the Mojave Desert.
With the morning sun, also rose hundreds of Marines whom were all gathered in one location for a large-scale combined arms exercise.
Marines with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, headed for Afghanistan, arrived at the Combat Center to begin pre-deployment training.
Particularly, the Marines are holding on to two words heavily stressed by their battalion commander…reputation and perspective.
“Training is what we do as Marines,” said Lt. Col. Kevin E. Clark, the battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “It’s time to get back to a culture where we’re ready to deploy.”
All units deploying to Afghanistan are required to undergo the Marine Corps’ premier desert warfare training called Integrated Training exercise (ITX), formally known as Enhanced Mojave Viper, which is a 28-day exercise to prepare Marines of all occupational specialties for the mental and physical demands of combat.
According to Clark, the battalion’s goal is to be ready to fight a conventional battle and succeed across the range of military operations, while armed with the perspective and good judgment to execute what is required during their deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“It’s about being at the right place, at the right time, with the right personnel and equipment, ready to train, which establishes the battalion’s reputation, which 2/8 ruthlessly defends,” said Clark, a native of Smithville, Mo. “2/8 maintains perspective that ITX prepares them more for the unknown deployment and not simply the known deployment to Afghanistan.”
Currently based at Camp Wilson, the Marines of 2/8 will soon transition to one of the Forward Operating Bases to conduct their training.
“Though we train all year long, this is the final test to ensure the Marines are ready,” said 1stSgt James Breland, the company 1stSgt for Headquarters and Service Company.
The conduct of this training allows Marines to have a better idea of the living conditions in a deployed environment.
“Marines will benefit from this training because it removes them from the comforts they have back at Camp Lejeune and places them in an unfamiliar environment,” said Breland, a native of New Orleans. “It really tests everything that the Marines have learned.”
Though the actual training iteration begins Feb. 22, timelines won’t stop the Marines of 2/8 from getting in a little extra training.
“Right now we’re doing FDC (fire direction center) drills,” said Newark, Del., native Sgt. Ryan L. Maclary a squad leader with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines. “The FDC is giving us the azimuth to our target, and right now we’re just getting the mortar up on the deflection that they’re giving us (manipulating the mortar system while hearing directions coming from the radio) so we can have rounds impact the target.”
2nd Battalion, 8th Marines will conduct a wide range of missions and scenarios during their ITX in order to prepare for not just the upcoming deployment, but a vast array of potential missions; fire support coordination exercises, platoon and company attacks, mechanized and aerial assaults, and counterinsurgency operations.
The Marines of 2/8 have high expectations for their upcoming training, as they get ready for combat.
“This is my first time doing any type of training like this as well as my first deployment,” said Gonzales, La., native Pvt. Blain A. Maggio, 21, a gunner with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. “I don’t expect it to be easy, but I am ready to get started.”