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CALFEX ’09 joins Philippine and U.S. Marine efforts across a spectrum of war fighting tactics

27 Apr 2009 | Cpl. Jason Spinella

From the planning phases which commenced on April 3 aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), to the execution of the final scenario-based raids during the Combined Arms Live-Fire Exercise (CALFEX) on April 25, the Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Republic of the Philippine Armed Forces members forged tight bonds due to a successful culminating training event.

The CALFEX, conducted during Balikatan 2009, was a venue showcasing the skills of more than 400 Republic of the Philippines Marines from Marine Battalion Landing Team 8 (MBLT 8) and 300 U.S. Marines and sailors from the 31st MEU. During CALFEX, events included a helicopter raid, mechanized raid, motorized raid and ground troop maneuvers on three sequential objectives.  The focus was to display the combined efforts and capabilities through team work between the two militaries.

“This was an excellent experience to learn from and work with another military force from the planning processes to the actual execution of the mission,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Dowling, the commanding officer of BLT 3/5. “This exercise has given my Marines a deeper appreciation for a MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force), and I firmly believe the Marines of 3/5 are better all around than they were 12 days earlier before this field training began.”

According to Dowling, a Houston native, the combined effort was a 50/50 split display of firepower between the two militaries, allowing in depth cross pollination and melding of cultures both in and out of the training areas.

“We were able to learn from their tactics in this humid jungle environment, something the Marines of 3/5 may be unfamiliar with due to recent deployments to Iraq,” said Dowling. “CALFEX has allowed us to truly train and operate in every clime and place; something Marines should be proficient at, making this an amazing experience and training effort.”

For the Marines of both nations CALFEX proved to be an effective tool for expanding ground war-fighting skills and capabilities.  It allowed personnel to gain a broader perspective of jungle warfare and noncommissioned officer skills used by partner nation counterparts. The majority of CALFEX was managed and executed by noncommissioned officers and junior Marines of BLT 3/5 and MBLT 8, making it a worthwhile experience for the small unit leaders.  These experiences and skills can one day be passed down to the next generation of leaders.

“Most of us already have our combat deployment, however, here we conducted joint jungle warfare training, martial arts, and convoy operations with our Filipino counterparts making us better rounded Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Aaron Little, a rifleman and team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company L, BLT 3/5. “From the experience we have gained here and what we had from the past, we now have knowledge that we can pass on to our future junior Marines.”

Balikatan is a Tagalog word meaning “Shoulder to Shoulder,” emphasizing the philosophy and intent of the bilateral exercise. Balikatan 2009 is an annual combined joint bilateral exercise involving Republic of the Philippines and U.S. military members focused on ensuring humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts are responsive, effective and efficient.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit