AAV CAMP, HAT KLAD, Kingdom of Thailand --
Maintaining concealment, he quietly maneuvered through the bows and branches of foliage in his path, calculating multiple distances and routes in his head as he moved. While the gear and weapons he bore placed considerable weight upon his lean frame, he moved quickly and with decisiveness. He looked back and saw the faces of those in his squad. He looked forward and saw the backs of none.
Cpl. Mike Guzman, a point man with the Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Co., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is one of the thousands of U.S. Marines participating in exercise Cobra Gold 2012, an annual multilateral training in which various Asian-Pacific nations execute combined military operations. Guzman, however, holds a unique position within his unit.
“As point man for the scout snipers, I’m the first one to go in and the first one to encounter any enemy contact,” said Guzman, a Riverside, Calif. native. “As a platoon, we provide intelligence on the immediate location and establish a security position for the rest of the unit to conduct their operations on an objective. It’s up to me to determine the most effective place for that is to be and what route to take getting there.”
Throughout the various training scenarios conducted during Cobra Gold 2012, the SSP has been employed multiple times during operations conducted with the amphibious assault vehicles of Company B., BLT 1/4, 31st MEU.
Another element in the operational success of the SSP is being the first presence on the scene, hence needing to be on the first AAV in.
“Being the first AAV to splash onto the beach and get these guys off makes us have to not only find the quickest and safest way to do so, but also navigate and relay any hazards back to the rest of the company,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew DeLarber, AAV crewman and driver with Co. B., BLT 1/4, 31st MEU. “However, being the first one in there is a rush, not knowing what could happen but being the one who has to react.”
Such is the mentality of Guzman and the position he holds within his platoon. Being the first one to infiltrate unknown territory, plotting out the route to take to get within range of the objective and being the one to relay any danger back to the Marines behind him, Guzman is aware of the gravity of his responsibility, but is ultimately resolute.
“In some scenarios, there’s no room to second-guess yourself,” said Guzman. “Being the first makes me nervous, but that’s as far as it can go. You have to rely on everything you’ve been taught to learn not to be hesitant.”
It is that bias for action which makes Guzman and the rest of the SSP such an invaluable resource.
“They act as our reconnaissance and surveillance asset whenever we are to assault an objective,” said 1st Lt. Scott Whipple, AAV commander with Co. B., BLT 1/4, 31st MEU. “If we’re coming onto an unknown beach area, they’re absolutely vital to our mission success, being the ones to scout out the area and relay valuable info back to us. If not for them, a big portion of an operation would be a guessing game.”
As for the training conducted during exercise Cobra Gold 2012, the SSP has been engaged in various cross-training with Royal Thai Marine snipers, not only learning how each other operates but also forging those lifelong bonds between brother Marines.
“The Thai Marines are a lot more experienced with jungle warfare than we are, as well as conducting sniper operations differently,” said Guzman. “With everything that we’ve experienced during Cobra Gold so far, there has been nothing but learning and sharing. In the end, every nation participating will come out of this exercise for the better.”
As Guzman and the Marines of Scout Sniper Platoon continue their training along with the other Marines of the 31st MEU, the Thai, Republic of Korea Marines and all other countries participating in Cobra Gold 2012 will continue training to increase interoperability and promote security and peace throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.