BAN DAN LAN HOI, Kingdom of Thailand -- A barrage of explosive rounds pound the hillside as dozens of troops sprint across a broken field toward their objective. Engaging targets with small arms and heavy explosives, the bilateral force moves forward in a well-choreographed dance of fire and maneuver.
Marines and Sailors with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, executed a combined-arms, live-fire exercise alongside Thai military forces here, Feb. 12. A platoon from the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Regiment, a platoon from the Royal Thai Army’s 7th Infantry Regiment, and a platoon from the 1st Regiment of the Royal Thai Marine Corps joined the BLT Marines to assault three objectives.
“The (U.S.) Army and the Thais secured separate objectives on opposite sides of the area, allowing us to punch through the middle and assault the last objective,” said Lance Cpl. Glenn Howard, a machine gun squad leader with Weapons Co., BLT 1/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Flint, Mich. “The force for the final objective consisted of ‘Apache Company’ (BLT’s Company A.), with machine gun and rocket assets from Weapons Company, which promised an explosive finish to the exercise.”
Rumbling in the hills beyond spoke of the high-explosive hail the U.S. Marine and Thai artillery batteries and mortar sections were raining down on separate objectives. Above the ground forces the engines and rotors of air assets from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) and the Royal Thai Air Force engaged targets on the ground to allow safe passage of the combined assault.
The U.S. and Thai soldiers crossed a wide expanse of rough terrain, aggressively engaging sporadic groupings of plastic targets along the outer edge of the Marine lines. Once the soldiers had cleared and secured their areas, the reinforced Company A. conducted a passage of lines and sprinted for hundreds of meters toward the cover of a 10-foot hill. Slamming down tripods for M240G Medium Machine Guns, the Marines dug in to release a symphony of destruction.
“We had a simulated two-story enemy stronghold and various outlying buildings,” said Lance Cpl. Bowie Blake, a squad automatic weapon gunner with Co. A., BLT 1/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Bonney Lake, Wash. “We suppressed them until it’s safe to bring up the stars of the show.”
After thousands of rounds impacted the target buildings in the distance, three Shoulder-Launched, Multipurpose Assault Weapons (SMAW) peeked over the hill. After sighting in and clearing the back blast area, the Marines lit up the compound like a fourth of July fireworks demonstration.
Billowing clouds of green smoke indicated the objectives were secure and the exercise complete. The training event was a success, but not all of the credit can be given to the forces on the ground.
“We we’re supported by the MEU-level (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) in its entirety for this exercise,” said 2nd Lt. Dennis Martin, a platoon commander for Co. A., BLT 1/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Cleveland, Ohio. “For example, our aviation combat element was above us alongside Thai fixed-wing aircraft, with our logistics combat element in the rear continually supporting us with things like transportation and food. (CALFEX) is a great exercise for my Marines who wouldn’t normally experience the full spectrum of MAGTF operations and the interoperability with Thai forces.”
Interoperability was the anthem for the annual Cobra Gold exercise, allowing U.S. and Thai forces to practice combined and joint operations in everything from coordinated assaults to humanitarian operations. The purpose is to ensure that the nations can seamlessly integrate for whatever contingency or theater security operation might arise.
“We are brothers-in-arms regardless of our language and uniforms,” said RTA 2ndLt. Kittipong Wonggai, a rifle platoon leader for 3rd Rifle Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. “No one can say when we will have to work together in real operations, so every chance we have to train together makes us stronger together.”
The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.