USS HARPERS FERRY AT SEA -- In the early morning of August 30, 2013, Marines and Sailors with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit sit on the ramp of USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) lined up waiting to launch in Amphibious Assault Vehicle 7's, from the ship's well deck.
Waiting for them on the shore of Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, are Marines from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment serving as aggressors for Exercise Tropic Thunder. The three-day exercise serves 13th MEU as sustainment training fresh out of San Diego for their Western Pacific Deployment.
One by one, the grunts of BLT 1/4 climb into the AAV's bringing 60 mm mortar systems, M240-B medium machine guns, M-16 A-4's, and other tools of their trade as infantrymen. Soon, wave after wave of the AAV's launch into the ocean heading for shore. With breakfast still fresh in their bellies, the calm weather keeps them comfortable, even under 80 plus degree temperature inside the armored personnel carriers.
This amphibious raid tests their capability to quickly hit an objective area, neutralize aggressors, and deny the enemy an opportunity to use the area for their own goals.
In no time, more than a dozen AAV's make landfall and the crews move their vehicles into an optimal position for the amphibious assault. Crew chiefs shout "DROP RAMP!!!" and in mere seconds daylight fills the back of the vehicle as the ramp quickly falls on sand. Scores of Marines from the four platoons quickly charge the beach and move to position. One platoon rushes toward a hill to provide a support by fire position, while the others maneuver to assault the enemy positions or set up blocking positions to isolate the enemy from reinforcements.
The solid communication between platoons provides the necessary command and control to coordinate fires and maneuver between squads, fire teams and platoons. Within less than an hour, an area not much bigger than half of a kilometer has been taken and all enemy captured or taken out of play.
"As a team leader ,one of the challenges we had was figuring out where to line up the team members for the best use of force," said Lance Cpl. Nolan C. Floyd, 1st Team Leader, 2nd Squad, 4th Platoon, Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 13th MEU and Meridian, Idaho. native. "This is the first time most of us have ever trained here, so we had to know the terrain, study the maps and exercise good judgment to accomplish the mission."
After completing their objective goals, the Marines withdraw back to the beach one platoon at a time and wrap up the training mission. The Marines of 1/3 who didn't serve as aggressors also make their way to the beach to get a chance to ride in the AAV's - something Marines in Hawaii don't always have a chance to do.
Even though the mission ended, much lies ahead for the next couple days. Later in the day, the "China Marines" move to Boondockers Training Facility, a large clearing aboard MCB Kaneohe Bay that houses a Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) town, obstacle course and Marine Corps martial arts pit.
"The ability to go to Hawaii is something not a lot of Marines always have a chance to do," said Capt. Brian Marthiljohni, Bravo Company commander, BLT 1/4, 13th MEU. "Training in different area is always good but the best part was having the time to let our squad leaders get together and train on certain skills and focus on the things they felt were the most important. I'm happy we were able to pack in an incredible amount of training in a short amount of time, time well spent."
Just as any professional needs practice and time to keep their skills strong, the time and training here gives them bonus training to sustain their skills. Some squads and platoons practiced patrolling while others practiced MOUT, or practiced identifying improvised explosive devices. For two days, they took time to get their tactics right.
"It's been a while since we've had the chance to practice some of these tactics, interior movement, patrolling, clearing buildings, because of the demands of work ups," said Sgt. Thomas Horrocks, 2nd Squad leader, 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 13th MEU and Gering, Neb. native. "But we also had down time with a barbeque and the swim at the end was great, a good chance to relax and enjoy the locale. We really got to build cohesion out here.
On the night before they headed back for ship, some of the Marines chipped in and gave the Company a barbeque of hot dogs and hamburgers, a welcome sight for anyone in the field.
In the morning of the final day they burned off their meal with a run to the beach and a relaxing swim in the Hawaiian surf.
The final task for the day was their return to ship. While the ride to island was calm, the weather and current this day proved more challenging. The rough current and choppy waters made their exodus back to ship more challenging for the AAV crews. However, all personnel made it back aboard safe and sound.
The Marines of Bravo Company have many months ahead of them on their 2013 Western Pacific Deployment. Some places they go will serve as a place to train themselves or foreign militaries in tactics; others will serve as liberty calls to bring some rest and relaxation. But should the need arise, Bravo Company stands ready to respond with military precision or render aid anywhere they are called.