DJIBOUTI, Africa --
(March 29, 2010) Marines pride themselves on realistic training in austere environments to replicate the conditions they will face in combat. For one group of Marines, the experience of blending the heat of the Djiboutian desert with the heat from tank engines and machine guns served as a culminating event after a week of tough training in the east-African country.
Infantrymen of Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit spent more than half a year building a cohesive bond with their fellow Marines who are responsible for providing them support with heavy armor and firepower with assault amphibian vehicles (AAVs) and M1A1 Abrams tanks.
This teamwork and all its might was brought to bear when they unleashed a coordinated mechanized assault against an "enemy" of old tank hulls and targets scattered on the rocky landscape.
Abrams main battle tanks provided heavy firepower from their 120mm canons and mounted machine guns allowing the Marines riding in AAVs to ride in closer to hostile territory.
Once the AAVs, also called “amtracs” (short for amphibious tractors) reached the drop off point, heavy machine gun fire from the AAV's mounted M2 .50 caliber guns suppressed the “enemy” as they lowered the ramp in the rear of the vehicle.
“We provide significant suppression fire in order to have the infantry safely get closer to the objective,” said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Shaw, platoon sergeant for the AAV platoon, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “Our tracks bound and maneuver similar to an infantry squad. We have to keep the enemy’s heads down to protect us, and the grunts in the back.”
Once in position, the rear ramp of the AAV drops to the floor and squads of Devil Dogs were let loose from their cage. Covering miles of rocky, jagged ground, Alpha Company swarmed towards their targets in full-force.
“Thanks to the “tracs,” we were not as physically exhausted reaching our objective,” said Lance Cpl. Patrick Enderle, a rifleman with Alpha Co., referring to how physically tiring the assault would have been had the infantry had to conduct the same operation on foot. “We were able to concentrate on shooting rather than catching our breath.”
Individual fire teams leapfrogged toward an array of targets as riflemen unleashed a storm of lead from M-16’s, M-4’s, M249 squad automatic weapons, and M240G medium machine guns.
“This was our last exercise for our company in Djibouti and [our Marines] did a phenomenal job looking out for one another,” said 1st Lt. Richard Foran, platoon commander, 1st platoon, Alpha Co. “I was pleased with our platoon’s achievements.”
The African environment raised the bar in training for the inexperienced Marines, who are currently on their first deployment, and continue to develop team work at all levels.
“The exercise was an eye-opener for me,” said Lance Cpl. Tim Eastep, rifleman, 1st platoon, Alpha Co. “The terrain, the heat, and live ammunition made it so real to me, but more than anything, I saw how our [platoon] communication and cohesion was there and how effective it is.”
With the right factors and location, the setting allowed small unit leaders to evaluate their Marines.
“Individual actions of the Marines were violent and intense compared to what we’ve seen in the States,” said Lance Cpl. Donald Liu, a team leader for 1st platoon.
This was the first time since deploying in January that each of these units had been able to offload from the USS Ashland, the Navy ship they are embarked on, to conduct training together.
They are planned to participate in a variety of other training exercise over the next few months while deplyed to the Central Command area of operations.