CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - During every training evolution, there is a discernible goal that is accentuated before, during and after the exercise. It serves as the incentive and motivation for Marines to accomplish a task with the most speed, intensity and efficiency possible.
Aside from that, there is an unspoken yet very apparent idea that no matter how mission capable a unit may be, there is always room for improvement. One of the keys to testing capabilities as well as improving them is innovation, which is the process of introducing a new idea or concept into something of value.
The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit used innovation to execute its most recent training exercise. On Oct. 25, the 11th MEU combined hiking with annual gas chamber familiarization training.
“The purpose of this training is to increase the individual’s and unit’s readiness due to the global response force that the MEU holds,” said Staff Sgt. Sean Fordham, the 11th MEU CBRND chief. “The 11th MEU as a whole has to be ready for anything, which includes a CBRN threat.”
With their scheduled deployment approaching, the MEU is participating in training exercises at a more frequent rate while intensifying each training event to further prepare and condition them for any circumstance. This most recent hike was a testament to that.
As the Marines gathered themselves in the assembly area, there was a mixture of moods that could be observed. Most personnel didn’t say much. It was as if you could see the gears turning as they contemplated what could happen. Others were seen casually engaging in conversation as if to seem unaffected by what was to come. The one common trait that all personnel displayed was composure.
“Let's go, we’re stepping!” said Sgt. Maj. Troy Black, the 11th MEU sergeant major. It started out just like any other hike with the boots marching along the dirt road, and the rifles and designated gear colliding with each other.
At the 10-minute mark, the MEU stopped to put on Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear. Going into the hike, the Marines new at some point that they would be getting gassed, but nobody knew when or where. All they were told was when they smell gas, sound the verbal alarm, stop breathing, close their eyes and put on their mask.
The Marines proceeded with caution after the formation started to move again. They were seen looking in various directions, trying to detect where the CBRN threat would appear.
“Gas Gas Gas!” yelled someone in the formation after smelling gas along the route. Canisters containing the riot control agent chlorobenzal malononitrile, otherwise known as CS, spread throughout the area, forcing MEU personnel to utilize their M50 Joint Service General Purpose Mask.
“Most Marines aren’t used to doing strenuous activity in MOPP gear,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph Leeder, CBRN Defense specialist with the 11th MEU. “Confidence and familiarization are the main things you want to focus on when dealing with CBRN related events like this.”
The real challenge began when the MEU continued to hike through the gas. Although protected by the effects of the gas, vision through the mask, and the gas itself, was limited at best. Also, due to the insulation of the MOPP gear, the temperature inside increased dramatically causing many of the Marines to sweat heavily.
Through these conditions, the MEU advanced through the terrain as if there were no threat at all. When personnel had reached the final destination point, they conducted the standard procedures for shedding contaminated gear, which was rehearsed during their last training exercise. The MEU then boarded the bus and headed back to headquarters.
The next hike that the 11th MEU is scheduled to participate in is on Nov. 15.