BAUCAU, Timor-Leste --
Through remote villages along a lush tropical countryside, Australian soldiers in military Land Rovers weave along endless winding roads to a small Timorese town whose streets must be visited on foot.
Accompanying the Australian forces is a squad of Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (31st MEU) Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, who are up to the task and find this a different training opportunity.
The 31st MEU Marines are training, here, from April 14-21, alongside soldiers from the Australian Defence Force’s 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (PARA) also known as, “Old Faithful.”
According to Lt. Col Stuart Lockhart, the executive officer for 31st MEU, the training is at the invitation of the government of Timor-Leste and is part of a Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) exercise conducted to continue the United States’ ongoing commitment to the security and stability of local communities, here, and in the entire South East Asia region.
Like many exercises conducted by the 31st MEU across the region, cross training takes place and often the militaries involved learn a lot about one another’s tactics and operational procedures. In this exercise, the two military forces made a training opportunity from conducting a combined visit to the city of Baucau’s highly populated marketplace made up of produce stands and local street vendors.
During the visit, Australian service members showed the Marines key places, their techniques for community interaction could be most effective based on their past experiences and also described their escalation of force procedures and communication tips in dealing with the locals population.
For Lance Cpl. Roel Vela, a rifleman with 1st Platoon, Company G, BLT 2/4, this was a whole new kind of training.
“This was far different than Iraq,” said Vela, a Katy, Texas, native. “The whole atmosphere was different, from the way the people interacted with us to the animals we saw on the sides of the streets.”
Vela added, “We just observed the Australians and simply followed their lead because this was their operation.”
For many of the Marines, the visit led by the Australian soldiers through the streets of Baucau was enjoyable and a great learning experience.
“(It) was very relaxed and it afforded us an awesome opportunity to meet many of the locals,” said Cpl. Jacob Puckett, a fire-team leader with Co. G. “It was great to see how the Australian soldiers conducted their training and how they communicated with the locals.”
Marines with the MEU often travel to foreign countries, and must adapt to and learn about the local areas they operate by learning from other military forces who train in those areas on a daily basis. According to Puckett, a native of Olathe, Kan., the Australian soldiers’ experience was quite evident.
“It was awesome riding in their vehicles and experiencing training under their charge and in Timor-Leste,” said Puckett.
For the Australian soldiers, the pleasure was likewise. According to Private Zach Harris, a rifleman with the 3rd RAR’s Company B, the U.S. Marines were great to work with.
“The Marines learned quite quickly and adapted very well to the change in tactics,” said Harris.
After the visit, both service members held a weapons familiarization class where Marines learned about the characteristics of the Australian’s Ausstyre F-88 service rifle while the Marines reciprocated by teaching the Australians the characteristics of the M-16A4 service rifle.
“This was a great way to learn about each other’s weapons, operations and culture,” said Harris, a Tasmania, Australia, native.
In addition to the SMEE training, the 31st MEU is concurrently conducting several Medical, Dental and Engineering Civic Assistance Projects throughout the country that is expected to affect more than 3,000 local Timorese throughout the ten day period.