CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan -- “Touching down in two!” yelled the crew chief through the whine of the rotors, prompting a shouted command from the squad leader, “Condition three!” Magazines slammed into two dozen rifles and night vision goggles were lowered from helmet mounts into position over the eyes. Muscles tensed in anticipation as the helicopter touched down and the Marines became a blur of motion when the squad leader screamed, “Go!”
A reinforced company of Marines and Sailors with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted a low-light aerial raid on a notional enemy encampment, Jan. 28.
CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, landed under the cover of darkness, unloading Marines to assault a collection of concrete structures. Company G., the 31st MEU’s “Helo” company, was supplemented with machine gun and mortar teams from Weapons Company to provide additional firepower for the operation.
The Marines have executed coordinated missions like this before, but this one added the challenge of artificial vision through the use of NVGs.
“Your perspective is thrown off wearing the NVGs, because one eye can see relatively clearly while the other has your peripheral vision” said Lance Cpl. Jacob J. Paynter, an assaultman with Co. G., BLT 2/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Loomis, Calif. “And even though you can clearly see figures and some details, you’re still not able to be completely sure who you’re looking at.”
Overcoming the visual difficulties, the force converged on the enemy town from three directions. Sporadic fire was exchanged, never lasting longer than a few seconds, as the Marines swept through the sparse pockets of resistance. Moving through doorways, onto rooftops and across streets, the reinforced company was able to secure the area in less than 30 minutes. Extensive planning and effective communication led to the successful completion of a complicated night-time raid.
“Issues multiply when you’re operating in the darkness, but effective, small-unit communication before, (during), and after the raid is key to compensating for that,” said Sgt. Chance J. Watson, a squad leader with Co. G., BLT 2/5, 31st MEU. “There will always be complications during an exercise of this size, but as long as you keep talking it can be worked through.”
With a notional high value target in custody, the company extracted from the compound using the same Super Stallion and Osprey aircraft that delivered them to the fight. While the mission was a success, this small victory in training will not change the rigorous training schedule ahead.
“The goal is to finish an exercise with absolutely zero problems and zero sustained casualties,” said Watson, a native of Midland, Texas. “Until that is reached, we will keep training and rehearsing our skills in different conditions.”
The raid was part of the 31st MEU’s pre-deployment training exercise that tests the unit’s ability to conduct rapid planning and mission execution within a limited timeframe.. The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.