CENTRAL COMMAND THEATER OF OPERATION -- It doesn’t matter where you hide – they can get you wherever you run. They’ll appear like ghosts and fade behind the smoke of their bursts. They’ll come from the depths of the sea. They’ll fall from the sky. They’ll offer the enemy no shelter and extend no mercy.
They’re the Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), Maritime Special Purpose Force, 2nd Force Reconnaissance Battalion, and they’re coming to a theater of operation near you.
Recently appearing in the Central Command Theater of Operation, MSPF Marines participated in underwater dive and aerial free fall/static line training that helped to enhance and maintain their collection of lethal, all-purpose skills – serving to highlight the unit’s role as the lead element in one of America’s premier expeditionary rapid-response forces.
The dive training held in the Red Sea was to re-familiarize the Marines with their scuba equipment and to train with the Diver Propulsion Device – an underwater machine that operates like a handheld torpedo, capable of effortlessly transporting two Marines to an insertion point, said Staff Sgt. Chris Williamson, Dive Team leader and a native of Marco Island, Fla.
“The DPD is a means of easier, longer range insertions than finning,” said Williamson. “This is definitely a realistic means of inserting into an objective. We rely on the machine to do the propulsion and we’ll hit the beach fresh, alert and ready to do the mission. It’s a great tool.”
The DPD features a compass board and depth gauge that helps the Marines navigate while submerged. The machine is capable of operating for approximately two hours, giving the Marines an “over the horizon” range of attack, said Williamson. Paired with re-breather scuba gear that eliminates tell-tale bubbles, Recon Marines can insert into the battle space with their patented silence, ready to engage the enemy.
The clear water of the Red Sea also helped the Marines to work on sustaining formations as they move on DPDs in six-man dive teams, said Cpl. Isaac Moore, the team’s radio operator who hails from Santa Fe, N.M. Moore said that because of the pristine water they were able to “learn a lot of the capabilities of the DPD,” something they often don’t see in the darker ocean water in Onslow Bay.
“In the dark, you have to pay more attention to what you’re doing and focus a lot harder,” said Moore. “You have to trust the gauges and learn to read your buddies. Once you dive here, in the clear water, you can see how fast they go. It makes a big difference.”
During another portion of the training operation, MSPF Marines polished their aerial free fall and static-line parachute jumping expertise, using the exercise to have fun and maintain their jump proficiencies, said Gunnery Sgt. Edward McDermott, the MSPF platoon sergeant from Richmond, Mich.
“Just like everything else in the Marine Corps, you always need to be ready to go,” explained McDermott. “You need to rehearse and train for when the time comes.”
Teaming up with the MEU’s Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced), the Marines jumped from the rear door of a CH-46E “Sea Knight” at elevations as high as 10,000 feet. McDermott said that the most difficult part of the jump is overcoming the apprehension of jumping -- something he says dissipates through reliance on their extensive training.
“The part leading up is the worst,” said McDermott. “But, when it’s time to go, it’s natural to follow the guy out in front of you. You rely on your training, settle down, and just go.”
“When you jump out of a helicopter, it’s like a fall,” said Staff Sgt. Britt DeLoach, team one assistant leader from Valdosta, Ga. “I’ve always loved free falling; when you exit and get stable, the view is crazy.”
During the free-fall stage, the key is stabilizing and gaining speed, said DeLoach. Jumping out of helicopter, as opposed to a plane, means that a jumper doesn’t “catch wind as fast” and needs to gain some to ensure they’re in the correct position. He said that you either “gain speed or your just falling.”
At approximately 5,000 feet, a jumper pulls the rip cord and deploys the parachute, jolting them into a slow descent. McDermott said that the shock of the chute opening is “probably the worst part,” but added that it’s a “good shock,” in that the chute opened and he’ll survive the jump. After that, he said the jumpers stack up in formation and move to the target as a team and touch down before gathering their chutes and moving on to the objective.
“I enjoy it,” said McDermott. “Everybody who comes in to Recon wants to jump and dive – it’s definitely a benefit of the job.”
Before deploying in June, the Recon element helped the MEU earn its “Special Operations Capable” designation during its pre-deployment phase, signifying the MEU’s proficiency in some two dozen missions spanning the spectrum of conflict. Continuing to work in concert with their MEU counterparts, MSPF Marines have demonstrated a leading-edge mentality and combat readiness that corresponds with their legendary warrior status. With unrelenting diligence, they’ll continue to bring the fight to the opposition’s doorstep while remaining swift, silent and deadly.
The MEU has returned to CENTCOM for the first time since completing a seven-month combat tour in Iraq in February 2005 and is composed of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; HMM-365 (Rein); and MEU Service Support Group 24.