CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- Marines and Sailors of Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, competed for the title of "Best Squad" during a competition Nov. 15 in Djibouti's Hol-Hol training area.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) ground combat element Marines and Sailors pushed through stations designed to challenge the mental and physical skills required of a squad of infantry Marines.
"We wanted to challenge all the squads and build cohesion," said GySgt. Kevin Oxner, Bravo Co. Gunnery Sergeant. "We wanted it to be something hard where they had to work together."
The Bravo Co. officers and staff non-commissioned officers set up the course in terrain that includes steep, rocky hills. The terrain, coupled with the average temperature of more than 90 degrees each day, set the stage for the competition.
The competition began with each squad completing a hill climb in their war-fighting gear - flak jacket, helmet, 782-gear designed to hold things like canteens and ammunition on their body, a pack and individual weapons. From there, squads had to complete a course of seven stations spread over several kilometers identified by grid coordinates to which they had to navigate. A seven-hour time limit added another element to the test. The clock stopped when the squad completed a 300-meter casualty carry after the final station, according to Oxner.
Each station tested a set of basic infantry skills the staff determined the Marines should refresh, and squad-members were randomly picked to be tested at each station, said Oxner. The stations included first aid, call for fire, land navigation, radio operations, knot tying, situational reporting that tested the ability of a Marine to provide tactically significant information based on a specific scenario, and a memory game that required Marines to recall a set of items that were shown to them at the start of the competition.
"It was designed to be a gut check," said Oxner, of Fort Worth, Texas.
"I expected it to be tough," said Cpl. William Garippa, 3rd squad leader, 1st platoon, Bravo Co., the winning squad.
The Marines were told in general terms what they would be tested on at the stations, so they had to determine the areas they wanted to refresh in order to be prepared for the competition, according to Oxner.
The Marines of Garippa's squad studied together for about four hours a day during the week prior to the competition, said the 24-year-old Wareham, Mass. native.
"The competition was definitely difficult," said 20-year-old LCpl. Mario Ramirez, 2nd team leader for Garippa's squad. "The knowledge we knew, but the terrain added difficulty."
Ramirez credits long hikes during pre-deployment work-ups and continued physical training since starting deployment for preparing the squad for the physical portion of the competition.
"The competition was a real benefit to the junior guys because they learned a lot of stuff in a short amount of time," said Garippa.
"It was important to see who put forth the effort," said Ramirez, a Seattle, Wash. native. "I had to prove I could do the job of an NCO as a team leader even though I'm a junior Marine."
"It's always good to have competition. It keeps you on your toes and shows we work together well as a team," said Garippa.
Capt. Christian M. Rankin, commanding officer, Bravo Co., praised the members of the company during a bon-fire lit awards ceremony Nov. 18.
"Every man did a great job to be proud of, but there can only be one winning squad," Rankin said. He then announced all members of 3rd Squad, 1st Platoon will receive maximum liberty opportunities at the next liberty port the Marines visit as a reward for their performance.
"The best part of the competition was finishing knowing we were done and had put forth a good effort," said Ramirez.
"When you have something heaved on you that's really hard, it makes you think this is what the Marine Corps is all about," said Oxner. "That's what we wanted to do here, make the Marines think."
13th MEU Marines ashore in Djibouti continue training and will return to their ships to complete Western Pacific Deployment 03-2, currently expected to return to Camp Pendleton in late Spring 2004.
For additional information about the 13th MEU (SOC), view the official website at www.13meu.usmc.mil.