Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit concluded a three-week training package in Djibouti Sept. 16, 2012, with a five-day competition designed to test everything they learned while ashore.
The extensive training and competition, based in the coastal mountains off the Gulf of Toujours, focused on mountain-based infantry skills intended to lend 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, participated in the training.
“The Marines started off the training with some classes like the mountain course and high-angle shooting…, so they learned how to operate here. Then they moved into force-on-force training events where they were forced to think ahead of an enemy and react quickly. Finally they did this competition where they had to employ everything they’ve learned out here. Everything culminated in this event,” said Capt. Juan Ramos, officer-in-charge of the training force package.
The Marines said they were “wore out” after the grueling days spent navigating the mountains with conditioning hikes and high-angle shooting ranges. Despite their fatigue, they made the best of the final week, which began Sept. 11, and stuck together to make the training exciting and worthwhile.
“These past few weeks have been tough,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Allen, 20, rifleman from West Gardiner, Maine. “This was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It was fun and challenging and I enjoyed being able to do this. The Marines in this unit, we’re all tight, close, like brothers, so everyone worked hard to really try to win in this competition but we still stuck together.”
As they started the competition Sept. 12, the temperament of the camp shifted as the Marines’ exhaustion left many restless over the improvised training challenge. But everything changed when it was game on.
“At first, they weren’t too into it, these Marines have been out here training pretty hard, so everyone’s exhausted,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Thomas, platoon sergeant, 33, of Hutchinson, Kansas. “But by day two, they really started to get into it. By day three, they were checking the scoreboard constantly to see who was in the lead. Eventually everyone got into it.”
The games brought out the competitive nature of the Marines as each warrior banded together to best his brother in the contest.
“The competition was good. No one wants to lose to anybody so everyone really put a lot into it and tried to win,” said Lance Cpl. Tim Payne, 21, rifleman and Clarksville, Ark., native. His team took first place in the competition.
The Marines began training in Djibouti in late August with courses comprised of classroom instruction in mission essential communication skills, indirect fire coordination and targeting methods, and survival skills such as building fires and finding water. They also conducted classes on mountaineering along with a water obstacle course on an adjacent French military outpost.
“Everybody had fun at the water obstacle course. That was probably the best part. Even the guys who couldn’t swim were having fun out there,” said Allen.
The second week of the training 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.
As the weeks came to a close, the Marines gave everything they had left for the sake of competition. No one wanted to be caught in last place in the games as everyone strived to be first.
“This was my favorite part of our training in Djibouti because it was a chance for some face-to-face competition,” said Lance Cpl. James Ritchie, 24, a rifleman and Rochester, N.Y., native. “It was nice to learn something new and do something we’ve never done before.”
The individual winners of the competition were: 1st place, Lance Cpl. Todd C. Nolte, 23, rifleman and Clark, N.J., native; 2nd place, Cpl. Benjamin Librizzi, 23, rifleman and Brookfield, Conn., native; and 3rd place, Lance Cpl. Jerecho McNeil, 20, rifleman and Laconia, N.H., native.
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.