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31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Strike Force hones urban training during Exercise Balikatan 2008

1 Mar 2008 | Lance Cpl. Jason Spinella

From the time the sniper takes his first shot, to the extraction of the Maritime Strike Force (MSF) team, a joint effort comprised of air support, and security forces must work together to complete the mission.

 Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s MSF, comprised of its Deep and Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoons and Marines and Sailors from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, conducted Realistic Urban Training Exercise, Feb. 18 - March 1, in the Republic of the Philippines during Exercise Balikatan 2008 (BK ’08).

 Evaluated by the Special Operations Training Group out of Okinawa, Japan, the Marines conducted urban training by planning, coordinating and executing precision raids in a hostile environment.

 According to Master Sgt. Carl Holden, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Breacher and an instructor with the SOTG, the Marines and Sailors were evaluated on the ability to work together with all the aspects involved in the exercise.

 “The entire exercise involved the Deep Reconnaissance Platoon to fast rope and quickly make an assault on a building riddled with hostiles and possible improvised explosive devices and the Maritime Strike Force’s ability to provide security and establish blocking positions,” said Holden, a native of Raleigh, N.C.

 According to Holden, the primary purpose for the evaluation is to observe and make note of the strong points the team has when executing the operation, and help to improve on the team’s weaknesses.

 To accomplish the mission as a whole, from insertion to extraction, every step involved needs to be thorough and precise. For Corporal Steve Kettelhut, an SOTG radio operator from Oakland, Calif., this holds true.

 “With all the entities of the operation being so important, all the Marines need to be on point,” Kettelhut said. “Since each part of the operation from the snipers to the extraction needs to be timed correctly and executed successfully, the preparation must have been intense.

 The action starts when the snipers engage hostiles around the outside of the objective, and at this point, the air support arrives in seconds dropping off the MSF to clear the hostile area, according to Holden.

 Added obstacles during the mission included ambushes from role players against the security force and a simulation of angry protestors that tested the team’s discipline during their extraction. Another aspect of the training that made the exercise unique was that it was executed in the tropical environment of the Philippines.

 “The humidity and weather play a huge role in the accomplishment of the mission,” said Kettelhut. “I feel like performing in an environment like this really strengthens our skills.”

 Along with the benefit of learning valuable skills for combat in an urban environment, the Philippine Marines involved took away many beneficial tactics from the training.

 “The knowledge and other specific training like the raid tactics, sniper shooting, air support and the detainment of prisoners really challenged us,” said Philippine Marine Captain Fidel Macatangay, the Training Company Commander for the Force Reconnaissance Battalion.

 According to Macatangay, a native of Batangas City, Philippines, this exercise helped both sides by teaching each other about their counterparts. In the end, the big accomplishment is learning what skills need to be worked on, and then apply them to the next objective.

 During Exercise BK ’08, the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU honed proficiency and precision in order to execute possible future operations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit