TOWNSHEND ISLAND, Australia --
About 80 Marines and Sailors with 81mm Mortars Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, participated in a four day exercise with Australian service members, July 10-14.
During the exercise, Marines and Australian forces coordinated mortar fire, naval gun fire and airstrikes. As Marines fired mortars suppressing one target, air strikes and naval gun fire destroyed others simultaneously in the joint live fire exercise.
“This exercise is really good training for both the Australian forces and Marines,” said Staff Sgt. Robert L. Gallup, a section leader with 81mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Co. BLT 2/7, 31st MEU. “Aircraft coming in can’t fly under our rounds like they can with artillery, so the timing has to be exact, accounting for the time it takes for a fired round to hit the target, the time the aircraft has to drop its ordinance, and for us to cease our fires.”
Gallup went on to say coordination is crucial; the timing has to be perfect for every fire mission so the Australian aircraft are not in any danger.
“We can’t let one go out to late or too early,” said Gallup. “We also make sure we are suppressing whatever mock targets are out there that could potentially hurt that aircraft so it’s not shot down.”
Although this was only an exercise, the Marines gained valuable experience that they could use on a combat deployment.
“Constantly being in the field and working with the weapon system creates good muscle memory that makes you that much more efficient with it,” said Cpl. Michael Hanna, a squad leader and Mortarmen with a combat deployment to both Iraq and Afghanistan. “So when we are in a combat environment and a fire mission gets called in we can respond quickly and get our rounds out accurately.”
Marines were not the only service members that benefited from the exercise.
“Bilateral training like this is always mutually beneficial for both sides, you always learn from each other,” said Australian Maj. Stuart Seabrook, the senior exercise controller for exercise Talisman Sabre on Townsend Island. “I have certainly learned more since I’ve been here, and to me, this proves bilateral training does work and we learn lessons as we go.”
Seabrook, who has worked with Marines in both Iraq and Afghanistan went on to say he was surprised by how quickly the Australian forces and U.S. Marine Corps integrated, and they produced some amazing results coordinating all the assets that were present for the exercise.
For most of the Marines present, exercise Talisman Sabre 2011 was the first time they had set foot in Australia.
“This is the first time I have been here, and it has been a blast,” said Robinson. “Getting to know and work with Australians is really cool, and I hope I get a chance to come back here and do it again.”
Good weather added to the positive experience that many of the Marines had.
“It was ideal weather for training,” said Gallop. “It remained sunny pretty much the entire time, but even if it would have been raining we’d still be able to fire and still would have. It is something that can happen in combat, so if it had happened here we would have kept training. It’s better to work out any kinks here then work them out in a combat situation.”
The Townshend Island training area provided the 81’s platoon and Australian forces a controlled environment to continue to build upon their current skills and more importantly develop their combined joint air, land and sea fire support capabilities.
“The U.S. Marines benefited greatly from training alongside the Australians,” said 1st Lt. Rory H. Smith, the 81mm mortars platoon commander. “The training event was a positive and worthwhile venture that strengthened the bond between the U.S. and our Australian allies.”
This exercise is a major undertaking which reflects the closeness of the Australian and U.S. alliance and the strength of the military-military relationship.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.