IE SHIMA ISLAND, OKINAWA, Japan --
They charged through the turbulent sea of grass under the thunderous rotor wash of a helicopter behind them, clutching their weapons and choosing the proper spots to take cover. Kneeling and steadying their sights on the tree line beyond, they remained aware of the positions of the Marines to their left and right. Once all were in place, the helicopters rose away, leaving the Marines to face one of their many pre-deployment trials: capturing an enemy encampment.
The Marines of Company C, known as “Helo Co.,” Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, successfully executed a helicopter raid exercise here, Jan. 12. The exercise was in support of Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise, a multi-week training exercise conducted before every 31st MEU deployment.
“Today we were conducting an amphibious and airborne assault against an enemy insurgent camp,” said 2nd Lt. Joshua Elliott, platoon commander and assault element leader with Company C. “They were harassing the local Ryukyu government, and our mission was to come in, cordon off the objectives. As the assault element, we would come in, breach any objectives, kill or capture the bad guys, conduct tactical site exploitation and extract with all our personnel.”
For the better part of a day, Marines armed with M249 squad automatic weapons and M16-A4 service rifles overtook various enemy-held positions throughout the training area. Although the day’s operation was one in a long line of training scenarios, the Marines acted with a sense of urgency that is seen in actual combat conditions.
“This training prepares us for any action we might see on the MEU,” said Elliott. “We are America’s expeditionary force-in-readiness, ready to conduct those amphibious assaults, knock the door in and lead the way for follow-on forces. When we deploy with the MEU, we are ready for real-time objectives.”
Sgt. Rafael Navarrete, a squad leader with 2nd platoon, Company C., knows that while the training may be repetitive, it is still worthwhile in the end.
“You can rehearse a million times, but the plan is always going to change,” said Navarrete. “We always have to be prepared to make those adjustments on the move. Nothing’s going to go according to plan.”
To further enhance the training these Marines receive, role players are used as the enemy resistance rather than static targets. Having a retaliatory enemy adds to the quick reaction experience these Marines are expected to have.
“Having an opposition force adds that force-on-force realism,” said Navarrete. “Targets won’t allow you to see how the enemy might act. Role players make the training more realistic.”
As the events of the day drew to a close, not only were the people of the Ryukyu government safe from radicals, but the Marines of Company C., BLT 1/4, 31st MEU, further honed their skills before boarding ship.
“Overall the Marines were able to adjust on the move and were keen to what the squad leaders and platoon commanders had to say,” said Navarette. “The mission was a success.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.