DARWIN, Northern Territory, Australia -- Driving along a dusty path connecting the Australian outback to civilization, the High-Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle took lead of a military column that stretched for miles. The convoy, two days into the trip, carried Marines, equipment and supplies back from a week of continuous training.
Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to the ships of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group after successful completion of Exercise Koolendong 13 here, Sept. 9.
The convoy moved more than 180 troops from the Bradshaw Field Training Area to the Port of Darwin, covering a distance of more than 300 miles. The mixture of Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (7-ton) vehicles, HMMWV’s and Light Armored Vehicle 25’s made it safely back to the ship in less than 48 hours.
“It was a long but smooth two-day ride from BFTA back to Darwin,” said Lance Cpl. Fredrick D. Mathers, a 20-year-old motor transportation operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU and a native of Nashville, Tenn. “The convoy worked out really well with the one stop to sleep for the night. It was a great way to end the exercise.”
With significantly less travel time, the MV-22 Ospreys of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, transported more than 600 Marines and Sailors along with equipment and supplies over the two-day period to complete the retrograde.
Koolendong required the 31st MEU to move a battalion-sized force to a remote and austere training area to conduct live-fire training. The exercise was designed to validate the training area for battalion-sized, live-fire training in the future. Also participating were the Marines of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin and soldiers of the 5th Royal Australian Regiment.
“It was great getting to work alongside the Australian Army, they are great people to hang out with and continuously demonstrate their well-rounded war fighting skills,” said Lance Cpl. Dakota W. Elwin, a 21-year-old rifleman with Weapons Co., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st MEU, and a native of Holly, Colo. “This was my first exercise and a great way to start my career. Not many Marines get the chance to train in the outback.”
The task of operating a Marine Air-Ground Task Force hundreds of miles from the ships allowed the unit to showcase its operational reach and sustainment capabilities. The training featured support by fire assets like the Expeditionary Fire Support System, M777A2 Lightweight Howitzer cannons and many other weapon systems used in an infantry battalion. Logistical support came by a fleet of ground vehicles including the MK-48 Vehicle Logistics System (wrecker), 7-ton trucks, and forklifts. Aviation assault support was provided by MV-22 Ospreys, CH-53 Super Stallion and UH-1Y Venom helicopters that were re-fueled and maintained at an expeditionary airfield.
“This exercise truly demonstrated what amphibious forces can bring to the table, (something that) not all joint forces can do,” said Col. John E. Merna, the Commanding Officer of the 31st MEU and a native of Prince George County, Md. “We brought everything off the ships and all the combat capabilities that the MEU (deploys) with.”
The 31st MEU brings what it needs to sustain itself to accomplish the mission and 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. The 31st MEU has resumed its regularly scheduled Fall Patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.