MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif -- For many Marines, the hills at Bridgeport are nothing less than the sum of a thousand salty tales of days when the Corps was harder. Devil Dogs are quick to share sea stories of heavy packs, heavy lungs and heavy feet. Since the days of the Korean War, Marines have trained in the steep High Sierras, and, with steady foot and keen eye have marched into battle in the harshest of clime.
Such is the latest for the Marines of the Thundering Third – 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. The newly-formed Battalion Landing Team for the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently completed the Mountain Warfare Training package, and are one step closer to take on tough terrain in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
From Sept. 25 to Oct. 12, BLT 3/1 endured the highly-specialized MWT challenges, ranging from basic survival to assault climbing. The entire battalion, from privates to senior commanders, underwent three phases of training and ultimately earned the bragging rights to Bridgeport lore. Nonetheless, it was an ‘uphill battle’ the entire way.
“Marines are generally apprehensive about the mountain,” said Staff Sgt. Ron Forristal, mountain warfare instructor. “For many it’s the biggest challenge they’ll face. They fear Bridgeport.”
Forristal and his staff were responsible for teaching Marines every aspect of the training package, and were beside the unit the entire way – advising movement, terrain negotiation, route selection and equipment utilization. All for the better, said Forristal, in teaching the individual Marine “that he is capable.”
The instructor also stressed unit cohesion as a heavy deciding factor in training success, and openly complimented BLT 3/1’s staff involvement.
“The staff NCOs and Officers (of BLT 3/1) were very much involved and engaged, and because of that, this is one of the best units I’ve seen come through here.”
On the command level, Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Phillip W. Chandler said he was completely satisfied with the evolution.
“The training was exactly what I wanted,” he said. “I wanted a physical and mental gut check, and if you ask any Marine, that’s what (he) got.”
Chandler took the time during the staff hot wash, a post-exercise evaluation between the instructor and battalion staff, to personally thank the instructor staff and present a plaque as a token of the unit’s appreciation. Chandler also made it clear that although the future was uncertain for the unit, the training was precisely what elevated the unit to the next level of readiness.
“On a MEU, we could just as easily find ourselves in Afghanistan as we could in Iraq, and this is what we have to fall back on,” he said.
Sergeant Anthony Epperson, a squad leader from India Company, offered the perspective that toughness and technique aside, the training held a very important dimension.
“It was just good to get Marines out of the urban environment and back into the open field,” he said. Epperson, fresh off recruiting duty, joined his squad midway through the training and relished in the shared misery of his Marines though he hadn’t put on a pack in more than three years.
“I just kept telling myself as we were humping along, ‘if that guy can do this, so can I.’”
And now the Battalion moves on. Facing a strenuous training cycle that will take them up to a spring deployment with the Fighting 13th MEU, Marines and Sailors from BLT 3/1 can embrace the mountain training at Bridgeport during downtime while sharing sea stories, and, quite possibly, in the mountains of some distance land hunting for democracy’s enemy.
For more information about the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, or the warriors of Battalion Landing Team 3/1, visit the 13th MEU Web site at www.usmc.mil/13thmeu.