BLT 3/6 shoots, moves and communicates;;Virginia exercise first toward achieving readiness

9 Apr 2001 | Gunnery Sgt. Arturo Prioletta

They came to Forts Pickett and A.P. Hill just like so many others had done before them - hungry for training in a new field environment. Faces eager to coalesce into a formidable warrior unit that could stop the most defiant of enemies arrived March 29. These were the men of Battalion Landing Team 3/6. The training at the two Virginia bases was the first for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's ground combat element since they officially became part of the unit March 19. The MEU(SOC), Special Operations Capable, training program starts about six months before the unit deploys to the Mediterranean. "The first two months is phase one of the individual skills portion," said Capt. Daniel Greenwood, BLT 3/6 operations officer of Arlington, Va. "Major subordinate elements of the MEU deploy early in phase one in remote areas like A.P. Hill, sometimes Fort Pickett, where we can focus on individual skills we'll need to be successful later on in the workups and also on deployment." This year's training included squad live fire and movement, and team actions on the object: all live fire training that make it as realistic as possible. The engineers learned about mines awareness and artillery Marines fired at Fort Pickett, working displacement drills in a live fire scenario where they fire in one location, displace rapidly to another firing point and continue the firefight. "The battalion is spread across a variety of ranges in these two installations and it allows us to train in all capabilities that we need to," said Greenwood. The training also afforded the Marines and Sailors an opportunity to get to know each other better. The majority of the BLT Marines joined the unit shortly before last Thanksgiving, as part of the Marine Corps cohesion program. "In January we deployed in Combined Arms 3-01," said Greenwood. "That was really the first intensive training block that they had until now." According to Greenwood, there is a noticeable difference in the capabilities of the Marines, who have been in the fleet Marine force just a few months, between the January exercise and the current one. The MEU(SOC) elements that deploy as a MEU are part of the telescopic Marine Air-Ground Task Force concept that the Marine Corps employs throughout the world. "The MEU(SOC)s are forward deployed elements that the CINCs (commanders in chief) depend on to react quickly to any crises in the world," said Greenwood. Indeed this capability is important to the CINCs since it's something they can tap into quickly should a crisis arise. There are deployed MEU(SOC) units overseas ready protect American interests or allies interests when called upon by the CINCs. "It gives the country a force that they know is forward deployed seven days a week, 365 days a year on both the East Coast and the West Coast, said Greenwood. "The citizens of America know the history and traditions of the Marine Corps and I think those history and traditions are very well respected and the MEU(SOC) is the modern-day way we continue that tradition, responding to threats around the world." The BLT trains as part of the ground combat element of the MEU, making up one of three elements that fall under the command element when they are deployed. "We are ready to respond to any crisis throughout the world," said Greenwood. MEU(SOC) training plays an important role in building the warrior spirit and taken very seriously by BLT leaders. "It's what sets us apart from a conventional unit and it covers that spectrum of capabilities from TRAP (tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel) in such areas as the Balkans, expanding all the way to MSPF (Maritime Special Purpose Force) missions where we do direct action," Greenwood explained. The battalion is also the ground combat element that directly supports the force reconnaissance detachment within the MEU. "We provide the security element that basically provides protection for them when they do their direct action mission," said Greenwood. Greenwood, a MEU veteran who was deployed with the 22nd MEU last year, said the MEU(SOC) brings a combination of assets to the table that a conventional battalion or regiment does not have. "We integrate the air combat element, the MSSG (MEU Serice Support Group), and many sub attachments to that; LAAD gives us an air defense capability; a detachment from Radio Battalion gives us a significant signals intelligence capability."In the end all these assets are instrumental in forming the strength of the MEU(SOC). "It's just not one capability, one particular area, it's a combination of all those that make the MEU(SOC) a responsive force," said Greenwood. The training that the Marines go through is non-stop. "We don't sleep many nights at all just because of the amount of training we do," said Greenwood. "Sleep sometimes takes a back seat. I enjoy the challenges that are unique when we are part of the MEU(SOC). They go above and beyond some of the conventional operations we normally train for and that's exciting for the young Marines who have decided to serve their country. It gives them an added challenge; something they can look forward to every day." According to Greenwood, the training away from Camp Lejeune affords Marines and Sailors an opportunity to focus more because they do not have the distractions of everyday life at Camp Lejeune. "The training areas and the ranges here at A.P. Hill allow us to train across the spectrum of capabilities that we need to possess as a BLT," said Greenwood. "It gives them a chance to train for 12 days and have a lot of fun."Cpl. Mark W. McDonald, 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, BLT 3/6, was happy to train in a new area away from Camp Lejeune because it helped diversify his unit's training. "It allows us to train in a different atmosphere," said the Marine from Charlestown, W. Va. "Instead of training in a swampy area such as Camp Lejeune, we're in a wooded area such as A.P. Hill. It's better training for the Marines to see a different environment that they might have to actually go to in combat." Besides helping to build confidence in controlling Marines, McDonald cited learning to deal with mountainous terrain and thick vegetation as two key features of the exercise. Lance Cpl. Michael E. Gress, a SAW gunner with Kilo Company, stressed that working together and bonding with other Marines in his squad enhanced his training experience. "It makes me a better Marine," said the Sterling, Colo., resident. "It builds a lot of confidence.""It's good dirt to work on," said Capt T. Shane Tomko, Commanding Officer of Kilo Company, BLT 3/6. "It's compartmentalized terrain, something we don't see down at Camp Lejeune." During the training, command and control was used down at the lowest level - squad and fire team level. "This is the type of terrain where it's key for them to go out and do the patrolling, the dispersion of their forces, and shooting and movement. It's been critical to us to come out here and do night fire and movement supported by machinegun," said Tomko, who hails from Quincy, Ill. Another important aspect of training in the field is the fact that Marines live in an open squad-bay. "Marines that live in squad bays tend to bond together," said Tomko. "The NCOs step up because they're more in control in a squad-bay environment. I've seen that for a while, this is a good bunch of Marines. Sgt. Danny E. King, 1st squad leader, 1st Platoon, Lima Company, and a resident of Myrtle Beach, S.C., thought the training was important and that both rookie and veteran Marines alike gave their all. "The only difference is that we've (the veterans) had prior training. The new Marines are picking on it very quickly, that's why we are advancing so quickly."