COMBAT TOWN, OKINAWA, Japan --
Whether it be day or night, in urban terrain or the bowels of a ship, the Marines of the Maritime Raid Force, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, stand ready to answer the call.
The MRF is made up of Marines with Force Reconnaissance Platoon and Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoon, both with the 31st MEU, integrated with elements of the newly arrived Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. This specialized force trains for every possible contingency, most recently honing their skills in urban assault with the completion of the Realistic Urban Training Exercise.
The training consisted of three graded events, where all of the units worked together to increase interoperability for the MEU’s upcoming deployment.
“Each element has gone through its own training package to prepare for this,” said Maj. Darren Crow, the Special Missions Branch officer in charge, Special Operations Training Group, 31st MEU. “We’re looking to make sure they have mastered the basics in their own individual lanes, but more importantly RUTEX is the point where it all comes together into one big operation, so we also look for the interoperability between the teams as a whole.”
Each event tested the MRF in a different way. Two of the raids were deliberate assaults, meaning the MRF had up to 72 hours to perform reconnaissance on the target, and develop an assault plan. The plan is based on reports given by the teams of the Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoon, who conduct surveillance from hidden locations surrounding the target.
The third raid was a time sensitive assault, meaning the MRF had less than eight hours to plan and execute the mission, with no time to insert the ARP teams. In this instance, the MRF had to assault the target using only intelligence provided by the instructors to complete the objective.
Another difference in the training came in how they engaged the simulated enemy. The MRF assaulted one of the urban training facilities using live ammunition. The use of live rounds helps to build trust among the teams.
“Live-fire raids definitely build trust and teamwork,” said Staff Sgt. Stephen Geiger, the special equipment gear non-commissioned officer and dynamic assault team leader with FRP, 31st MEU. “When you have security platoons out there holding a cordon, and they have live ammunition, you are going to gain a certain amount of trust knowing that they have your back.”
In the other two assaults, the Marines use simulated rounds, which are similar to paintball rounds, allowing the SOTG and the instructors to more effectively simulate reality.
According to Crow, the one thing that can not be simulated during a live-fire exercise is the human element.
“We want to have one or two scenarios where we have that thinking, breathing enemy that has the will to survive, fighting back against them,” said Crow.
To broaden the scope of the training further, one of the raids was executed at night, bolstering the Marines’ ability to operate more effectively in darkness. Due to the reduction in depth perception caused by the Night Vision Goggles, Marines were forced to be more attentive of their surroundings as they entered and exited vehicles and buildings.
According to Geiger, operating at night also reinforced the need for noise discipline, because sounds are amplified at night.
“Every time we go out we learn something new,” said Geiger. “I tell my Marines that if at any time we go out on an operation and you don’t learn something new, something has gone wrong. So we are constantly trying to push ourselves out of our comfort zone so we can constantly keep learning.”
The SOTG staff attempts to accelerate the Marines learning by drawing on their own personal experiences to create detailed scenarios.
“Many of the instructors have combat deployments,” said Crow. “So, some of the scenarios are based on events that resemble real life scenarios that they have encountered.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.