Atlas Hinge uses friendly competition to teach valuable combat lessons

23 Sep 2000 | By Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) introduced themselves to their Tunisian allies in Marine Corps fashion: they attacked them.

However, the attack was more than welcomed by the Tunisian Military; it was invited.

An amphibious assault against the Tunisian forces marked the beginning of Exercise Atlas Hinge, a bilateral training exercise between the 26th MEU(SOC) and the Tunisian Military.

The eight-phase exercise was the expeditionary unit's first major training evolution since their Mediterranean deployment began more than two months ago. According Col. Kenneth J. Glueck, Jr., 26th MEU (SOC) Commanding Officer, Atlas Hinge offered his unit the chance to sharpen their combat skills.

"It's a great chance to bust the rust off," he said. "I think we've been doing our best aboard ship to remain America's force in readiness, but this allows us to hit the beach and conduct some more extensive training."

The first six phases of the exercise pitted the 26th MEU (SOC) against the Tunisians in various war-gaming scenarios.

Those scenarios began with the extensive amphibious assault, which without coincidence occurred on the 50th anniversary of the Marine amphibious assault on Inchon, Korea. The initial assault force was Battalion Landing Team 2/2's Golf Company, who moved in first to secure various beach landing sites for various follow-on forces.

From BLT 2/2, the follow-on forces came in the form of a majority of the Battalion's various elements embarked aboard the three ships within Amphibious Squadron Four. Golf Company, in addition to members of BLT 2/2's Heavy Equipment and Engineer Platoons, were dispatched from USS Austin. From USS Ashland, the M1-A1 Abraham's Battle Tank platoon, Echo Company and two Amphibious Assault Vehicle platoons took part in a mechanical raid against Tunisia's mechanical assets. USS Saipan launched the remaining BLT assets, to include Fox Company, Light Armored Reconnaissance Detachment, Weapons Company, India Battery and members of Headquarters and Service Company.

During the assault, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 provided rotary wing air support, and MEU Service Support Group 26 provided logistical support for forces ashore.

The offensive actions concluded with these various 26th MEU(SOC) elements working together to secure the final objectives by a combined air and ground attack.

Both the Marines and Tunisians learned lessons from the initial assault phase of the exercise.

"I was able to speak to a Tunisian officer on the [hill we stormed]," said Capt. Kenneth Kassner, Golf Company Commander and San Antonio, Texas native. "He was most impressed with how we came out of nowhere."

During his Company's boat raid, the Marines from Golf flanked the Tunisian position from the West, and emerged from the bushes before the African military force had a chance to adjust fire.

From the Tunisians, Glueck, who also flew some missions over the objectives, was most impressed by their ability to camouflage.

"It was really difficult to see a lot of their equipment and vehicles from above," he said.

Kassner agreed.

"Even up close you could only make out a barrel, but not much else," he said. "What made [the camouflage] so effective was their attention to detail and use of the natural surroundings."

Learning the other sides' trade secrets constituted the final phases of the exercise.

During this portion, several units from the MEU made liaison with their Tunisian counterparts and conducted cross training in their respective areas. For example, members of BLT 2/2's Tank Platoon spent time teaching the Tunisians a little about their equipment and tactics, while the Tunisians in turn taught the Platoon about their French-manufactured Tank Destroyers.

"A lot of work went into this training," said Glueck. "The payoff was a great exercise, and everyone here walked away with an understanding of different tactics and a better respect for one another."

Glueck added that Atlas Hinge was a great start for an upcoming string of exercises. The 26th MEU(SOC) is scheduled to conduct many more major training evolutions before they return to the United States.