Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit finished the first week of a Training Force package in Djibouti Aug. 31, the latest endeavor of the 24th MEU as it begins the sixth month of its current deployment.
The “T-Force” package is a scheduled three-week event, largely focused on mountain-based infantry skills that will allow for tactical superiority in rugged environments. A platoon of Marines from Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, based from the USS Iwo Jima, are currently taking part in the training.
The first few days were mostly academic and took place in Camp Lemonnier, a relatively comfortable joint expeditionary base where Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa is headquartered. Here, the Marines received classroom instruction based around mission essential communication skills, indirect fire coordination and targeting methods, and survival skills such as building fires and finding water.
Once this portion was complete, the Marines took part in an acclimatization test, which consisted of a three-mile run in boots while carrying a pack weighing approximately 25 pounds. This portion was to test the Marines’ physical state of readiness in preparation for the intense elements of the mountains.
The Bravo Company Marines then moved from Camp Lemonnier to an Intermediate Staging Base, located more than an hour away from what would be considered “civilization.” Here, they took part in a day of basic assault climber skills – everything from knot-tying and fixed-lane rope movement to rappelling down a 150-foot cliff-face.
“Basic military mountaineering skills are important because they can be employed any place we go,” said Master Sgt. Chris Brueggeman, the senior mountain leader for BLT 1/2 and staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the T-Force package. “Even when they’re not in a mountainous environment, Marines can use the survival skills that they learned here.”
After a full day mostly spent on the cliff-faces, where several Marines placed their watches on the rocks and measured temperatures of 135 degrees, the infantrymen bedded down for the night near the water-line of the Gulf of Toujours. Still, they found themselves contending with the antagonisms of heat and humidity combined with the relentless itching and scratching of insects.
“I’ve been learning a lot out here about everything,” said Lance Cpl. Liam McConnell, from Fairhaven, Mass., and one of the Bravo Company Marines taking part in the T-Force. “Even how rugged the terrain is presents a challenge, especially compared to someone used to walking around North or South Carolina.” But comfort, of course, isn’t a prerequisite for life as an infantryman.
“That’s part of what makes us (Marines) so good,” said McConnell. The following morning, the Marines rose before the sun and moved to an adjacent French military outpost to navigate a water obstacle course. The course was a test of the Marines’ stamina; it combined the physical strength of swimming and navigation of obstacles with the mental challenge of working as a team in order to quickly and efficiently maneuver through the course.
The Marines were given time to consolidate and re-fit, but then were back in the mountains conducting patrolling operations under a persistent African sun.
“The first week of the T-Force package has already paid dividends; it has provided future small-unit leaders the opportunity to learn and practice primitive skills in an austere environment,” said Capt. Juan Ramos, officer-in-charge of the T-Force package. “These are the skills required by the infantryman that do not rely on technology. They are important because a dependence on technology decreases the self-reliance of the infantryman.”
The second week of the T-Force package began Sept. 3 when the Bravo Company platoon returned to the field for a “force-on-force” exercise, in which the platoon divided into separate elements and played out a loosely-scripted scenario in a simulated battlefield within the Djiboutian mountain terrain.
The 24th MEU is deployed with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout the U.S. Central Command in the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet area of responsibility. A small contingent of Marines is ashore in Djibouti managing various unilateral, bilateral and joint exercises with other U.S. service members and French forces stationed in Djibouti.