Mechanized Marines as strong as elephants

28 Sep 2000 | Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

When Captain Darrel Benfield and his Marines come to a fight, they come with weapons weighing more than a high school football stadium full of elephants.

The Marines looked like those elephants Sept. 15, when Benfield commanded a mechanized raid that charged against the Tunisian Military's mechanical assets.

The raid was a training package for both sides, and part of Exercise Atlas Hinge, a bilateral training exercise between the 26th MEU(SOC) and the Tunisian Military.

Battalion Landing Team 2/2's M1-A1 Abraham's Battle Tank platoon, Echo Company, two Amphibious Assault Vehicle platoons and Obstacle Clearing Detachment from the Engineer Platoon conducted the raid against the Tunisian Mechanized Battalion, which included a platoon equipped with French-manufactured tank destroyers.

"Those first 24 hours were the most challenging," said Benfield, Atlanta, Ga. native. "Any time that force-on-force training is conducted, the chance of gaining extremely useful insight into our skill level exists. All Marines by nature are extremely competitive, and will do what it takes to win."

That attitude was evident in action, according to Capt. Kenneth Kassner, BLT 2/2's Golf Company Commander. Commanding the first force to hit the beach, Kassner was able to observe Benfield and his Marines from a position he had secured on a nearby hill.

"They were great," said Kassner. "As soon as we captured our objective he became the main [offensive] effort. We were able to use our position to guide him a little bit on mechanized forces in the area. We painted the picture for him, and he did awesome."

However, the raid was only the beginning. Once the dust cleared the marines and Tunisians joined sides and spent the next two days cross training with one another.

During that cross over training, the Marines and Tunisians worked on mechanized breaching operations and had the opportunity to work in some force-on-force training where a Marine and Tunisian platoon attacked and defended one another.

Benfield said among the things Marines were able to teach the Tunisians were specifics in mechanized platoon attacks and mechanized company attacks.

From the Tunisians, Benfield said he and his Marines learned a lot more about mechanized desert operations.

"We may only visit the desert for two weeks or so every two years," he said. "They live and operate in it daily."

For example, the Tunisians taught the Marines various tactics and techniques they could use when operating in similar environments.

"What really made this training a plus," said Benfield, "is that it gave us a chance to regain some skills that had atrophied."

It had been more than two months since many of the mechanized platoons had conducted any major training.

"Also," he added, "the Tunisians challenged us at every turn, and provided us with a great measuring stick of where we were."

The result of the measuring stick: though the training identified areas where his Marines needed some work, Benfield said he was pleased with their performance.

"If the call came tomorrow I have no doubt in my mind they could handle it," he said. Storming the enemy, no doubt, like a herd of elephants.

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)