SAM HILL, SHOALWATER BAY TRAINING AREA, Australia (July 20, 2009) – --
As the sun began to set over the horizon, 3rd Royal Australian Regiment, in support of 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, made their way through thick brush to a small village where they would secure the town from hostile villagers during the Battle of Sam Hill July 17.
Umpires from the Australian Army’s Forces Command were on site to observe and referee the engagement.
According to Maj. Glenn Jones, executive officer for the coalition force umpires, the mission of 3rd RAR during the battle was to ultimately create a good environment with healthy relations between the residents of the town and themselves so their counterparts from the 31st MEU could move in and occupy the location with little or no resistance. It was a task easier said than done as the ADF soldiers encountered resistance almost immediately after insertion.
The 3rd RAR soldiers began their assault by surrounding the village to ensure everyone within the town was contained. During the mock battle that followed, simulated ammunition provided both sides with a realistic training environment. The Australians fired F-88 Australian Steyr rifles filled with blank 5.56mm rounds, while the role-playing villagers returned fire with M-16A4 service rifles and M-249 Squad Automatic Weapons.
In order to mediate the battle, umpires dictated who was considered wounded or a casualty when firefights commenced.
“As umpires we assess the damages and casualties the battle brings,” said Jones. “We review real battle statistics and base our results on the averages of those statistics.”
Jones said one of the initial and key factors of 3rd RAR during this scenario was to decipher the difference between the armed combatants, armed civilians and policemen populating the village.
Maj. Phil Cooper, an umpire from Forces Command added, “Once the unit separates the different groups, they can become allies with the policing authority of the town to ensure safety of the town’s people.”
After securing the area, 3rd RAR and the MEU’s task changed and became one of humanitarian assistance.
Another element of realism was added with the thorough preparation of role players portraying each of these groups.
“Our staff non-commissioned officers have worked with these types of people during combat and have gotten to know some general characteristics,” said Pfc. Anthony Ham from the U.S. Army’s 160th division who acted as a villager for the battle. “With our staff NCOs’ help, we were able to serve as good mock villagers for the Australians and the MEU.”
According to Cpl. Christian Yllingwith, a communications specialist from 3rd RAR, the U.S. service members acted as great town’s people and gave the Australian forces the opportunity to learn from their actions.
“Everyone did a great job and helped everything go accordingly,” Yllingwith said. “Training always goes better when you have people you can work well with and the U.S. service members were excellent counterparts for this.”
The Battle of Sam Hill was a part of the MEU’s participation in Exercise Talisman Saber 2009. TS ’09 is a biennial combined training activity designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined task force operations, which will help improve combined readiness and interoperability.