SHOALWATER BAY TRAINING AREA, Queensland, Australia -- The world was a shifting spectrum of black masses and shapes until a flare shot into the night sky. The now-exposed shadows responded with their own flashes of light accompanied by the distinct sound of rifle fire.
Night vision goggles brightened the night for platoons of Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, as the Marines and Sailors conducted simultaneous assaults on enemy-held territory during exercise Talisman Saber 13, July 26.
The company faced an enemy presence, role-played by soldiers of the Royal Australian Army’s 7th Brigade, in two camps with a strength of approximately 50 personnel and an accompanying artillery battery.
“To ensure one enemy location was not made aware of our presence and given time to prepare as we assaulted the other location, the company split to execute concurrent actions on both objectives,” said 1st Lt. Tim J. Chavez, fire support team leader with Co. G., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and native of Visalia, Calif.
The assaulting element of Company G. dismounted from their amphibious assault vehicles five kilometers from one of the objectives in the late afternoon. The AAVs then maneuvered to a holding position nearer the second objective and held steady as the ground force advanced on the enemy positions.
Once all of the Marines reached their pre-determined staging positions, they settled in until the cover of darkness signaled the next phase of the operation. As the last of the sun’s rays retreated over the horizon, AAVs assaulted one camp as the ground forces emerged from the trees to engage the second camp.
The Marines’ main assault force used team rushes and covering fire to maneuver closer to the enemy encampment while a squad of Marines broke to the far right of the camp in a flanking maneuver. The enemy forces scrambled two vehicle-mounted machine guns, supported by a squad-sized element of soldiers, in an attempt to repulse the Marines. The flanking maneuver forced the enemy to divide their base of fire, eliminating their chance to establish fire superiority, allowing the main Marine force to punch through and over-run the location.
Minutes after the Marine ground force secured the camp and called a cease-fire, the AAV platoon reported in with similar success in their assault.
“This was some of the most intense training we've received since we’ve been here,” said Lance Corporal Randall D. Farrell, a radio operator with Co. G., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and native of Seattle, Wash. “We've been mainly focused on blocking positions and defense during the entire exercise, so even though we've been walking all day, ending in simulated combat makes this a great training opportunity."
In addition to the training value the Marines of Company G. received, the assault also provided a learning experience for the Australian soldiers. Although some Australians posed as oppositional forces during the exercise, many were integrated with the Marines in order to develop a better understanding of small-unit tactics.
“To be able to launch such a wholly-capable ground force from ships off the coast and smash enemy defenses is an impressive dynamic for a unit that we're looking to duplicate on our own scale,” said Lt. Garrett S. Gepp, a platoon commander with Co. C., 1st Regiment, Royal Australian Army, and native of Townsville, Queensland, Australia. “Who better to learn such capabilities from than the people who have been doing it for so many years?”
The Marines completed the assault operation by conducting tactical site exploitation, checking the enemy casualties and vehicles for any useful intelligence. After a long day of movement and a night of combat, the Marines gladly loaded into the AAVs to head back to camp.
Talisman Saber 2013 is a biennial training activity between the U.S. and Australian forces that provides effective and intense training to ensure the combined forces are capable, interoperable, deployable on short notice and combat ready. The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.