SHOALWATER BAY TRAINING AREA, Queensland, Australia --
A cacophony of rifle and machine gun bullets fly downrange, meeting their targets with deadly accuracy. Off to the left, the piercing “whoosh” of a rocket saws through the noise. The enemy is dug in deep behind downed trees and brush, but the Marines’ advance is overwhelming.
Following the conclusion of Exercise Hamel 2012, the Marines of Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, executed multiple live-fire assaults in the Australian wilderness, where previously they honed their skills alongside the Australian Army.
For the past three weeks, the Marines fought with and against the Australian soldiers during the deployment certification of 1st Brigade. Now, with the bilateral training complete, the Marines conduct a fire and maneuver exercise in the forest environment. This marks the first experience of a densely wooded, live-fire range for many of the Marines.
“There’s a lot of vegetation as opposed to what we’re used to in California, so to go out in a more exotic place to practice platoon and squad-level tactics is a great benefit,” said Cpl. Tanner Clark, fire direction controlman with Weapons platoon, BLT 2/1, 31st MEU. “It was a long field operation, but definitely one that prepares us for any future scenarios down the road.”
In the rain-drenched terrain of the Australian outback, the Marines practiced enemy engagement drills reinforced with heavy weapons. Pitted against a notional squad encamped in the forest, the Marines engaged, reacted and eliminated the enemy. This type of training is common for the Marines of Company G., but the terrain offered obstacles not common to the ranges of Camp Pendleton.
“Navigating through brush that is waist-high and finding firing positions behind the trees while staying on line is tricky,” said PFC Dylan Dedman, rifleman with 3rd plt, BLT 2/1, 31st MEU. “That’s why we do these exercises, though; we refresh skills already learned while adapting to new situations. We’ll leave Australia that much more combat-ready.”
Each platoon was reinforced with additional assets including mortar support, M240G machine guns and a shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon rocket launcher.
As the forward squad took contact, the following two squads broke off to the right and left flanks as mortars rained on the enemy positions. Before the mortars ceased, the machine guns kicked to life, laying down continual suppression as the left flank squad swung up with their SMAW team, eliminating the enemy bunker while the rest of the platoon took out the surrounding enemy targets.
“One of the biggest changes in engaging the enemy in this type of setting is not being able to lie prone, as the high grass makes you unable to see the targets,” said Lance Cpl. Erik Brasile, fire team leader with 3rd plt., BLT 2/1, 31st MEU. “This is a major learning experience for us.”
The engagements lasted for approximately half an hour each, but the days’ worth of training was invaluable to the Marines after spending nearly three weeks in the wilderness.
“We’re getting back to the roots of patrolling and patrol base operations,” said Capt. John Zaal, commanding officer of Co. G., BLT 2/1, 31st MEU. “It is an outstanding opportunity for them to get back into their combat patrol fundamentals and to reaffirm what they’ve learned out here in the past weeks.”
This live-fire exercise marks the end of the Marines’ training here in Australia. The purpose of Exercise Hamel was to certify the Australian Army’s 1st Brigade for operational deployment. The Marines used this time to seamlessly integrate with their Australian counterparts and strengthen the ties that brought the Marines to Australia.
“It has been an absolute honor to work with the Marines,” said Leftenant Colonel Eamon Lenaghan, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, 3rd Brigade. “Their nickname is ‘The Professionals;’ I couldn’t agree more with what I saw during the past month.”
As the Marines prepare to begin some well-deserved liberty, they take with them unique skills learned in Australia - skills that may give them the upper hand down the road.
“Living and operating in a woodland environment gives the Marines a new appreciation of the word ‘expeditionary,’” said 1stLt. Sam Long, executive officer of Co. G., BLT 2/1, 31st MEU. “These Marines may find themselves operating in this type of environment in the future, and now they’ll have the skills to be able to adapt easier.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.