Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Marines use low-tech options to thrive in mountain terrain

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Story by Cpl. Christopher O'quin

The Marines of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment 1st Marine Division trained at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport with high-tech gear such as night vision goggles, computers and rifle combat optics.

However, with low-tech equipment such as compasses, ropes, pack animals and alternative communication equipment the Marines of 1/1 were able to operate and thrive in the rugged environment of Exercise Mountain Warrior 06-10 during the month of July.

During the first week of the exercise, the Marines  learned to rappel down sheer cliffs, cross wide gorges and traverse steep terrain.

“Learning something as simple as tying a military repel seat with six feet of rope and a carabineer, you can get around the terrain efficiently,” said Cpl. Brad P. Warren, the training non-commissioned officer with Weapons Platoon, Charlie Company. “That rope has multiple uses and weighs next to nothing. The simpler it is the better. If you have too much gear it will slow you down and hurt the mission more than help.”

The mountain terrain combined with the tall trees created obstacles for radio operators seeking constant communication with the command operations center. Their remedy was no more than, string, a plastic spoon from a Meal-Ready-to-Eat and some wire.

“You can make a field expedient antenna by taking copper wire and splicing the ends,” said Lance Cpl. Randy R. Groves, the senior radio operator with Alpha Company, 1/1. “Take a MRE spoon poke a hole into it and combine it with 550 cord and the wire and hang the field expedient antenna in anything not conductive to electricity. Before you know it you are back in business communicating with higher. As far as field radios go, it’s actually the best antenna we have in the Marine Corps and it can reach the farthest as far as signal goes.”

The compass, a tool used by Marines for generations proved useful when the Marines needed to get degrees for sectors of fire in a defensive position.

“The compass is extremely reliable,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Lewis, a squad automatic weapon gunner with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company. “Using the compass and the necessary math, it helps me get the exact degrees of my whole area where my rounds will travel. You use that to correspond with other Marines. That way you have interlocking fields of fire and 360 degrees covered by weapons. Of course the compass is good to use for navigation too.”

While using a compass helps Marines know where they are, getting their gear from point A to B can require a skill that dates back to before the Corps had global positioning systems, satellite phones or all terrain vehicles.

For the Corps, it’s nothing new, using older low technology to accomplish the mission in the mountains.

“Here we teach some units and Marines how to pack animals,” said Staff Sgt. Ernesto Hernandez, an instructor with Unit Training Group, MCMWTC. “We teach Marines how to pack horses and mules like they did in the Banana Wars. They can carry your chow, water, gear and weapons. Sometimes you won’t have a helicopter and hiking with those animals is what it takes.”

The Marines of today have improvised and learned valuable lessons from previous generations who had to adapt to the ever changing battlefield.

“I think being a Marine means being resourceful,” said Groves. “You have to think outside the box. I try and think of new ways to tackle problems whenever I go into the field.”

Deploying as part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1/1 will execute a variety of missions in austere conditions, using their ingenuity to get the job done after tempering their skills in the mountains of MCMWTC.

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