BRADSHAW FIELD TRAINING AREA, Northern Territory, Australia -- Leaning forward in the seat and holding his rifle for support, the Marine braced for impact as the 7-ton truck sped over yet another rock pile. Two days of travel has covered the Marine’s gear in a thick film of dust, blending the camouflage pattern into one solid color of tan. Overhead, the slow beat of rotors announces the passing of another wave of aircraft carrying additional forces.
The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit utilized the capabilities of its aviation combat element and combat logistics element to transport a battalion-sized element more than 300 miles inland for Exercise Koolendong 13 here, Aug. 29 through 31.
Combat Logistics Battalion 31, the 31st MEU’s combat logistics element, used Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements (7-ton vehicles) and High Mobility, Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) to move 189 troops from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in the port of Darwin to the Australian outback. With well-trained mechanics as part of the convoy and an array of replacement parts, CLB-31 can keep a sizeable force on the move.
“For our movements, CLB-31 uses 7-tons and (HMMWVs) to transport Marines and equipment,” said Capt. Sabrina M. Villarreal, the 35-year-old operations officer with CLB-31, 31st MEU, and a native of Houston, Texas. “We are self-sustaining by taking all the necessary capabilities to keep the convoy moving without outside support.”
The convoy stretched on to the horizon as 57 vehicles moved inland 379 miles to the training area. The convoy also included light armored vehicles carrying Marines and Sailors from Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines; as well as troops from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced); and the Command Element of the 31st MEU.
“Traveling in the convoy was awesome because we were able to go through the outback and see a part of the world that most Americans my age don’t get to see,” said Cpl. Luis S. Ortiz, a 21-year-old motor transportation operator with CLB-31, 31st MEU, and a native of Orlando, Fla.
While CLB-31 was traveling the roads- paved and dirt- for several days, VMM-265 (Rein) soared through the skies. The speed of the MV-22 Osprey allowed for the delivery of Marines and Sailors in less than an hour.
Lifting off in Darwin, the Osprey aircraft carries up to 20 troops inside each aircraft. Flying teams of four Ospreys in multiple waves over three days, the ACE transported more than 500 personnel to BFTA.
“The ACE provides rapid movement from ship to shore by cruising at speeds up to 280 knots and providing our own expeditionary refueling station at the landing field in BFTA,” said Maj. Brian D. Psolka, a 34-year-old MV-22 pilot with VMM-265 (Rein), 31st MEU, and a native of Yuma, Ariz. “We picked (the Marines) up at Darwin and flew more than 190 miles to the BFTA site in about 45 minutes.”
Moving the troops via convoy and aircraft, the 31st MEU demonstrated the operational reach of the Marine Air Ground Task Force.
The completion of the movement enables the 31st MEU to begin the week-long, live-fire Exercise Koolendong 13. Also participating in the exercise is the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin and soldiers of the 5th Royal Australian Regiment. The exercise reinforces why the 31st MEU is the force of choice for the Asia-Pacific region. The 31st MEU brings what it needs to sustain itself to accomplish the mission or to pave the way for follow-on forces. The size and composition of the 31st MEU makes it well suited for amphibious operations, which includes raids, assaults, evacuations and humanitarian assistance operations.