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31st MEU's long-range raid capabilities tested

  • Published
  • By Cpl. Rebekka S. Heite
  • Marine Corps Bases Japan
The night's silence was broken by four distant bangs followed by four dull thuds. Before the cracks from the two sniper rifles had faded away, the thump of helicopter rotors started to make themselves heard. Soon, the dull thumps slowly swelled to a roar as two MH-60 helicopters settled in over the trees to drop two teams of Marines into the landing zone. They ran for the nearby buildings through the churning dust.

The raid took place April 8. The exercise itself, Realistic Urban Training Exercise 10-1, focused on Marines and sailors from the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit completing a long distance raid on urban terrain, which some modern-day conflicts call for, while Special Operations Training Group Marines evaluated their tactics.

RUTEX is part of all Marine Expeditionary Units' training Corpswide, said Col. Paul. L. Damren, 31st MEU commanding officer. Guam offers some good venues for a greater challenge, allowing us to use more of our assets, he added.

On April 5, a team of Amphibious Reconnaissance Force Marines and instructor/trainers from SOTG, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF, landed on Andersen Air Force Base. Then the reconnaissance and surveillance teams, along with at least one SOTG instructor per team to evaluate them, inserted themselves into the jungle surrounding the target site on LZ Median.

In the training scenario, intelligence at hand told them a high-value individual from Okinawa was on his way to the site where small munitions, including at least one rocket propelled grenade, was being stored. Their goal was to capture the munitions and the individual, interrogate him and any subordinates with him and then return to Okinawa.

The recon Marines' mission was to provide information back to the Maritime Raid Force, 31st MEU, through the unit intelligence and operations sections so the MEU command could plan how best to take down the site and capture the high-value individual. During their almost 72 hours of living in the jungle with limited movement so as not to give up their position to the role players in nearby abandoned base housing, Marines sent back multiple communications including photos detailing activity around the target site.

Then on the evening of April 8, MRF Marines landed in a Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 152 KC-130 and the mission was hot.

Once off the KC-130, MRF Marines divided into two groups; one group loaded onto two Navy Sea Combat Squadron 25 MH-60s helicopter and the other group loaded into eight different tactical vehicles provided by the Guam National Guard.

Once the vehicles arrived at a pre-arranged checkpoint, they went tactical, by shutting off lights. Then the helicopters took off and headed to the site. With the helicopters inbound, snipers took their shots at two security guards, mannequins designed to absorb bullets. Taking out the security guards increased the confusion among the high-value individuals and took out the people most likely to slow down the raiding Marines.

Almost immediately after the shots' echoes faded away, the helicopters were in the air over the target site preparing to land.

As soon as the helicopters made their landing, one helicopter's team immediately entered and secured one of two target houses while the other helicopter's team located a RPG-toting role player and commenced firing simulation rounds at him until they were sure he was out of play. Then, they made their way to their own target house and set about clearing it. Their combined goal was to find and secure the high-value individual and all munitions in the two target houses.

The Marines and sailors also practiced casualty evacuation using a helicopter to airlift the notionally wounded from the site.

Training in Guam provided the Marines with a more realistic environment because Guam added the challenge of the unknown to the exercise, Damren said.

"The Marines did great. I'm extremely pleased with them all, especially the support from the [reconnaissance and surveillance] Marines, the SOTG Marines and the HSC-25 sailors. We couldn't have done all we did without them," said Damren.

When RUTEX 10-1 planning began in October, Marines had a vision to ensure realistic training. Normally, urban locations on Okinawa are used, but that doesn't always fulfill the realistic aspect of the training, said Col. Michael Langley, SOTG officer in charge.

After capturing their target, several small caches of munitions and clearing all the houses in the target area, the raid force and their SOTG trainers loaded into the vehicles and left - leaving the abandoned "village" once again alone in the quiet night.