USS BOXER AT SEA -- Marines and Sailors of 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit marked the end of a rigorous summer, Sept. 22, as it concluded its first foreign bilateral training exercise with the Republic of the Philippine Army and Marine Corps during Amphibious Landing Exercise 14.1. They can now cross more than 30 days off their calendars as they count down the remainder of their Western Pacific deployment and sail into the autumnal equinox hoping for cooler climates and new training opportunities.
The rigor did not begin on deployment or even in the summer, however. "The fighting 13th" maintained its battle rhythm throughout a demanding workup cycle with minimal dwell and back-to-back at-sea periods. The workup mission began as early as January with Exercise Iron Fist 2013, an annual bilateral amphibious exercise with Japan Ground Self-Defense Force meant to improve interoperability and enhance military-to-military relations, hone individual and small-unit skills necessary for effective crisis response.
Aboard the USS Boxer (LHD 4), Marines grew their sea legs alongside their U.S. Navy counterparts of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and trained with the JGSDF to conduct amphibious beach assaults via Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion, mechanized raids in the dark of night and ship-to-shore operations off the coast of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, as well as, live-fire tactical maneuvers in the brown, cacti desert of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.
In May, Marines with 13th MEU revisited MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, Calif., again during MEU Combined Arms Exercise, which was immediately followed by Ground Realistic Urban Training where 13th MEU tested its air combat element Marine Medium Tiltrotor 166 (Reinforced) MV-22B Osprey aircraft capabilities by spreading operations out around Fort Irwin and Brawley, Calif., Yuma, Ariz. and St. George, Utah. Ground RUT was followed by PHIBRON MEU integration and a Composite Training Unit Exercise, which was joined by the USS Harpers Ferry and the USS New Orleans. Workups concluded following a final Certification Exercise prior to departure, Aug. 23.
"The entire company is very highly trained," said 2nd Lt. Michael Terreri, platoon commander with Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4. "All platoons can execute all the missions required. I personally have great squad leaders and I know that the rest of the company is supported by great staff noncommissioned officers, squad leaders and our officer corps has just been exceptional for the entire workup."
As soon as the USS Boxer departed for a week-long sail toward the humid tropics of the Western Pacific, the fighting 13th got right to work planning for Rapid Response Planning Process sustainment training, Operation Tropic Thunder, in Hawaii, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.
"We took all of the different elements in the battalion and found some place for them to train," said Maj. Barret Bradstreet, operations officer with BLT 1/4. "Each one of them did something really different and we just sort of crammed everybody in there."
The training consisted of amphibious landing, land-based tactical maneuvers and a successful record-breaking 600-mile ship-to-shore movement of four MV-22B Osprey aircraft in support of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
"It helped out a lot that it was Labor Day weekend," Bradstreet said. "I think while everyone else was cooking hotdogs, we had unscheduled training space all across Oahu and I don't think there was one available training space that we didn't use. If we had a whole other week and open space, I think we would have rotated everyone through, gave everyone a taste of it, but as it happened, everyone got something and all the Marines stayed busy. It was a good way to kick off the deployment for us."
Immediately following Operation Tropic Thunder, 13th MEU, BOXARG and USS New Orleans commanding officers went to work planning to participate PHIBLEX 14.1, a bilateral training exercise designed to demonstrate the United States and Republic of the Philippines commitment to mutual security and strengthen long-term partnership, while ensuring the readiness of a bilateral force able to rapidly respond to regional humanitarian crises.
"Marines have been training like this for a long time, but it was a tremendously dynamic training event," Bradstreet said. "Some of the areas where we trained were entirely different from the other sorts of areas. The environmental jungle climate mixed with the challenges of the sort of unusual river valley, mixed with some of the weather where we were there in the middle of a typhoon, mixed with the population and cultural challenges made training sort of dynamic and challenging.
Nonetheless it provided a fantastic venue to do this work with our Philippine counterparts."
Though Marines and Sailors may spend weeks at a time on ship sailing form location to location, Terreri said, it's important to maintain standards and readiness, so each company with BLT 1/4 had to come up with ways to sustain readiness while aboard ship.
Charlie Company breaks it down to a weekly routine. Mondays are dedicated to weapons maintenance, which is a time for Marines to break out Night Vision Gear, check the batteries and every other single piece of gear in the company's ruck.
"That's really important to us," Terreri said. "Weapons are cleaned to the standard and rust is removed. We never know when we can be called for a TRAP mission. Maintaining our equipment is very important, which is why we dedicate an entire day to preparing our equipment and our personal gear."
Tuesdays, Charlie Company Marines receive squad leader mentorship and time to get haircuts and maintain the high standard of military appearance. Wednesdays, Marines participate in professional military education, which can include basic skill presentations and peer mentorship. Thursdays, Marines participate in Tactical Exploitation Group training. Fridays, Marines conduct practical applications and remediate any additional skills on Saturdays. Sundays, Marines get personal time to square themselves away.
"We have a use it or lose it mindset when it comes to preparedness,"
Bradstreet said. "Doing drills and straying sharp is the best recipe we've found to maintain the high state of preparedness."
With no plan to slow its pace, Marines and Sailors of 13th MEU and BOXARG continue sustain its expeditionary capability to conduct amphibious operations, rapid crisis response, and contingency operations anywhere in the world at a moment's notice.