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Combined arms proves valuable for 31st MEU and Armed Forces of the Philippines during Exercise Balikatan 2008

27 Feb 2008 | Staff Sgt. Marc Ayalin

Amidst the tropical heat of the Philippines, the Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and service members from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) conducted a Combined Arms Live-Fire (CALFEX) exercise here, Feb 27.

 The daylong exercise, which is part of Exercise Balikatan 2008 (BK ’08), involved more than 500 service members from the 31st MEU’s Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines and service members from the Philippine Marines, Navy, Army and Air Force.

 According to 1st Sgt. Charles Hutto, a 16-year veteran assigned to Headquarters and Services Company, BLT 2/4, the CALFEX was designed to integrate the Filipino military with the U.S. Marines in a combined arms scenario and expose them to the benefits of integrated fires.

 “Our Marines and the Philippine service members did well today using mortars, mechanized assets and a combined forward assault element, who were foot mobile, to reach multiple objectives during the exercise,” said Hutto, a Warner Robins, Ga., native.

 Throughout the day, the BLT used 7-ton and High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles, Assault Amphibian Vehicles and Light Armored Vehicles to push through to their objectives against simulated enemy targets.

 During the training, a Philippine Marine platoon of 81mm mortarmen from the 50th Marine Company, Marine BLT 10, honed their supporting arms skills by conducting timed gun drills and also assisted U.S. Marines during actual live-firing scenarios.

 For U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Francisco Gonzalez, an 81mm mortar platoon sergeant with Weapons Co., BLT 2/4, helping to prepare the Filipinos from both the 60mm and 81mm mortar platoons for future combat missions was the most rewarding aspect of participating in BK ’08.

 “This was a great opportunity for us to show the Filipinos the procedures that are the most effective in combat,” said Gonzalez, a Patterson, N.J. native. “As a result, the platoon has established some of our tactics as standard operating procedure.”

 Throughout the duration of the exercise, U.S. Marines and Sailors along with their AFP counter parts continued to support each other with machinegun fire from armored vehicles and indirect fires from mortars.

 During the final objective, Philippine soldiers executed the assault on enemy positions. For them, the benefit in working with the Marines was being able to integrate new tactics and sharpen old ones.

 “This exercise was good training because it has helped us to better our overall tactics if we were to be called upon to protect our own country,” said Philippine Army Cpl. Antonio Calimguim, B Co., 68th Infantry Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.

 While the AFP service members valued the opportunity to learn new tactics and better their skills, the challenging part of the training was using old and outdated equipment to include ammunition dating back to the Vietnam War era.

 “With their gear so outdated, the hardest part is maintaining their weapons system,” Gonzalez added. “In regards to their mortar tubes, we stressed the importance of cleaning and care of their gear.”

 Meanwhile, Exercise BK ’08 continues until March 3, with the majority of field training taking place in the Luzon region of the Philippines. Exercise BK ’08 is designed to improve the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military’s abilities to conduct combined operations and interoperability.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit