CAMP GONSALVES, Okinawa, Japan --
Rain whipped across his face and the rope holding his weight swayed precariously, threatening to drop the Marine dozens of feet into the valley below. He steadied himself and continued moving slowly for this challenge is but one of many he would face in the Okinawan jungle.
Marines and Sailors of Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, completed a week-long jungle operations course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center here, from Sept. 23 to Sept. 30.
The company lived and trained in the dense Okinawan surroundings as they learned to operate in the jungle. Having prepared for, and deployed to, urban and desert environments in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, the unique characteristics of the jungle provided the Marines and Sailors valuable experience.
“Going from (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center) Twentynine Palms to here is like day and night, both in the kind of land we’re operating in and their individual challenges,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan M. Deleos, a 20-year-old rifleman with Co. G., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU. “We’re going to be more effective fighters following the course.”
Company G. endured days of pouring rain, high humidity and thick mud they nicknamed “peanut-butter mud” as they learned new combat skills. Rappelling down jungle cliffs, making improvised stretchers, crossing rope bridges and setting ambushes were some of the skills practiced during the course.
“It’s going back to the basics and building jungle-specific skills on top of their infantry foundations,” said Sgt. Aaron J. Mathewson, a 29-year-old instructor with the JWTC and a native of Buffalo, N.Y. “Applying desert-specific tactics in a dense jungle environment is just not smart, plain and simple. Even for the combat vets, everyone has to step back, re-analyze what they know and be willing to learn.”
The course culminated with a three-mile endurance course that required each squad to negotiate multiple obstacles by using all of the skills learned throughout the week. The demanding course took each squad approximately three hours to complete.
The endurance course began with a multitude of rappelling and rope bridge crossing sites that ended at the mouth of a river. Each squad covertly moved downriver, negotiating around concertina wire and smoke screens as they traversed over debris and through underwater tunnels. The final and most physically demanding portion of the course required the squads to construct makeshift stretchers using two pieces of wood and their blouses to carry a simulated casualty over hills and through deep trenches.
“That (endurance course) was pretty intense, but it was definitely a refinement of our skills and made sure we knew what we were taught,” said Deleos, a native of La Mirada, Calif., between labored breaths at the end of the course.
Although the Marine Corps’ last major foray into jungle warfare was more than 35 years ago in Vietnam, the Marines of BLT 2/4 recognize the importance of becoming “jungle ready.”
“The Marine Corps takes pride in being able to operate in any clime and place, and this training helps us reach that end state,” said Cpl. Gage C. Doyle, a 21-year-old squad leader with Co. G., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of Melbourne, Fla. “Besides, some people pay hundreds of dollars to be in a tough mudder race, and we’re the ones getting paid for it here.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.