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Photo Information

Marines from the Force Reconnaissance Platoon of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, are extracted by an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a realistic urban training exercise on the island of Guam, Sept. 16. The exercise serves as part of a multi-week series of training to prepare the Marines of the 31st MEU for their upcoming deployment. The 31st MEU is the United States' force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region.

Photo by Lance Cpl. David J. Adams

31st MEU conducts urban assault on Guam, citizens barely notice

15 Sep 2011 | Sgt. Paul Robbins Jr.

The citizens of Hagatna went about their typical Thursday evening, unaware of the small force of Marines moving into position around a local water treatment plant in town. In less than 40 minutes, the assault on the plant was over and the community undisturbed.

Members of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Force Reconnaissance Platoon, Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoon and Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, conducted a Realistic Urban Training Exercise on the island of Guam, Sept. 15.

In coordination with local authorities and Special Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, the Marines executed a three-day operation to observe and take down a mock illegal weapons shipment.

The training began with the insertion of two, plain-clothed surveillance teams from the ARP into the city of Hagatna. These teams were charged with remaining undetected while observing the target for two days, providing valuable information to the FRP assault team.

“Those teams relay information on the enemy strength in numbers, patterns of movement, the weapons they carried…” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Baumgartner, platoon sergeant for the FRP. “The success of our assault is dependent on their observations.”

Adding to the challenge of providing legitimate intelligence to their FRP counterparts, local law enforcement agencies actively searched for the hidden teams. If detected, the teams would have been removed from communication with the assault element, but that never happened.

“The community didn’t know they were there, and our guys couldn’t find them,” said Albert Balajadia, public affairs officer for the Guam Police Department. “Throughout the surveillance and assault, we received zero calls from concerned citizens.”

Warnings were given by local authorities that Marines would be training in the area. However, the locations, times and type of training were not shared.

The lack of commotion from the immediate public was a result of tactics employed by the Marines involved. The FRP assault force used non-distinct vans for ground insertion and UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopters for insert from the air. The ground vehicles blended with local traffic, while the helicopter used the cover of night and a rapid approach.

“We were happy to hear that the assault was hardly noticed,” said Baumgartner, a resident of Caysville, Ga. “Our intent is to get in, accomplish our objective, and get out with the smallest foot print possible.”

The assault began with one of the ARP surveillance teams eliminating an enemy guard from their sniper position, more than 500 meters from the site. The shot was followed by the vehicle and helicopter insertion of two FRP assault teams, supported by outer security from infantry Marines of BLT 2/7.

The live-fire assault required the FRP teams to breach two buildings, clear the structures of enemy targets, recover the enemy arms shipment, and secure the surrounding area. The scenario was designed to be a realistic test of the Marines’ skills and the location provided the appropriate venue.

“Anytime the 31st MEU is called to conduct a mission, it’s going to be in an unfamiliar environment,” said Master Sgt. Steve Sarten, chief instructor for the Special Missions Branch, Special Operations Training Group. “Guam provided the 31st MEU a nearby opportunity to conduct realistic training in an unfamiliar environment.”

From the initial sniper shot to the final boots leaving the ground in Blackhawk helicopters, the entire assault lasted 38 minutes. Following the success of the mission, SOTG and 31st MEU Marines anticipate more training will be conducted on island.

“Any time we get a chance to train somewhere different than ranges these Marines use year-round on Okinawa, we’re going to take it,” said Staff Sgt. Clint Michalek, close quarters battle instructor, Special Missions Branch, Special Operations Training Group.

The 31st MEU provides a forward-deployed, flexible sea-based force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit