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Marines flex to fit changing mission

16 Sep 2005 | Sgt. Stephen M. DeBoard 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

After nearly two weeks of humanitarian-assistance operations in the storm-battered Gulf Coast, Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, flew back to North Carolina Thursday to make final preparations before heading to Africa for a long-scheduled training mission.

Second Platoon, Charlie Company, will be part of an international team tasked with training military forces from four West African countries. The idea behind the West African Training Cruise, or WAT-C, is to foster self-reliance in the region.

“It’s joint training between the Marine Corps, Spain, Italy, France and Great Britain,” said 1st Lt. Bradley Turner, Charlie Company’s executive officer.

The Marines from 1/8 departed Naval Air Station New Orleans, which housed the command element of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force St. Bernard, the main Marine Corps effort in the massive relief operation.

The upcoming assignment was not a surprise, said Staff Sgt. Jorge Olalde, platoon sergeant, 2nd Platoon.

“We’ve known about the mission for awhile, but have been prepping for two months,” he said.

The shift in mission reflects the infantry’s flexibility, said 20-year-old Cpl. Joshua Thompson, squad leader, 2nd Platoon.

“To me, it shows that our guys can pick up, go and change gears on a moment’s notice,” said Thompson, a Swainsboro, Ga., native. “Yesterday we were doing humanitarian missions. Today, we’re getting ready to go train.”

The training will involve the African countries of Senegal, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria. Jungle warfare, amphibious and small-craft operations will be key elements of the training package, said Olalde.

The WAT-C, the first of its kind for the Marine Corps, is scheduled to last from 30 to 90 days.