Su Song Ri Range, Republic of Korea -- Thousands of rounds fly downrange as three platoons of Marines rush to their positions. Howitzers thunder in the distance while the rattle of machine guns echo off the sides of the valley. The gunfire is the symphony that accompanies the choreography of Marines as they advance.
Marines with Company E., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Landing Team 31, as part of 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, conducted a combined arms, live-fire exercise at Su Song Ri Range as part of Exercise Ssang Yong 2014 here, April 4.
Although BLT 2/5 has formidable firepower on its own, 3d MEB multiplied the firepower by adding a multitude of supporting units to the mix. Other units were needed for the mobilization and execution of such a complex, live-fire scenario. Helicopters with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3d MEB; Humvees with the BLT’s Combined Anti-Armor Team; M777A1 Lightweight Howitzers with Golf Battery, BLT 2/5; and other supporting assets added to the bulk of personnel and firepower for the exercise.
The integration of so many forces and massive weaponry on display made the training more realistic for the Marines involved.
“Some people might think it’s unnerving conducting a movement to contact with munitions flying past you on both sides,” said Lance Cpl. Alexander L. Lunsford, an assaultman with Co. E., BLT 2/5, RLT 31, and a native of Houston, Texas. “But it’s really exhilarating, being able to send so many rounds and explosives downrange. It makes you forget it’s just training and pulls you into the action.”
Prior to the Company executing movement downrange, notional enemy positions were bombarded to soften the battlefield. M1A1 Abrams Tanks with 4th Tank Battalion, Marine Corps Forces Reserve, engaged with their 120mm cannons, howitzers rained 155mm high-explosive shells, AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters opened up from above with GAU-17 miniguns, and Light Armored Vehicle-25’s chewed through belts of ammunition with their M240B machine guns.
The maneuver element sprang into action following the conclusion of the bombardment, moving forward in Amphibious Assault Vehicles to unload and engage the enemy. The company’s scout sniper platoon engaged targets that lay before the infantrymen while the mortars platoon suppressed targets further downrange. The completion of the exercise was marked by the distinct explosion of C4, planted on the last remaining enemy bunker.
Successfully destroying the enemy was the objective, but not the sole aim of the exercise. The coordination of such a large-scale attack with live ammunition is no easy feat.
“I think this is the closest you can get to realistic training short of actual combat,” said Cpl. Alonzo B. Evans-Chase, a team leader with Co. E., BLT 2/5, RLT 31, and a native of Rockville, Md. “Our mortars, artillery howitzers, snipers, Humvees, attack helicopters, and even tanks, all coming together, from battalion level on down to the individual fire teams, with live ammunition for a huge exercise with no issues, that’s an accomplishment.”
Following CALFEX, the company will change their attention to bilateral training with ROK Marine units. The training will focus on urban operations, as well as integrating each into single units, bolstering interoperability if needed in the future.
SY14 is conducted annually in the Republic of Korea to enhance interoperability between U.S. and ROK forces by performing a full spectrum of amphibious operations, while showcasing sea-based power projection in the Asia-Pacific.
The 31st MEU is currently operating as part of the 3d MEB for SSang Yong ’14 and is the Marine Corps’ force of choice for the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.