MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- During this time of year most people are busy preparing for the holiday season. There are presents to be bought, lights to be hung, and trees to decorate. For the Marines from Company K, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, preparations continue for what takes place after the holiday parties and the ball falls in Times Square.
While the clock ticks relentlessly toward the new year, time is at a premium for Cpl. Zachary R. Mendenhall as he continues to ensure his Marines are ready for war. Mendenhall, a squad leader with Company K, used the experiences from his previous deployment to Iraq when his Marines participated in training at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility here Dec. 7.
“We are focusing on MOUT operations and tightening up some loose ends,” said Mendenhall, a 21-year-old from Poseyville, Ind. “We worked on some reaction drills, things like reacting to sniper fire or an improvised explosive device.”
There were very few loose ends for Mendenhall to secure as the battalion recently returned from having their battle edge honed at Mojave Viper, a training exercise designed to simulate as fully as possible the situation on the ground in the Marine area of operations in Iraq. He said urban combat skills can get “rusty” if they’re not applied practically on a regular basis.
“If the Marines have just been sitting around the barracks for two weeks, you can still go up to any of them and ask how to do something and they can give you the answer verbatim,” Mendenhall said, “but they still need to actually get out there and do it. Ten minutes of remedial action will put them right back in (the proper mindset).”
Leading by example and making sure that his Marines know everything they need to down to the smallest detail is a trait his superiors notice.
“He’s real aggressive, a real hard worker,” said 2nd Lt. Matt D. Deffenbaugh, a 24-year-old Fayetteville, Ga., native. “He makes sure that he demonstrates everything and teaches everything in multiple ways. ”
Mendenhall takes the time to share his experiences with the training and how it helped him during his first deployment to Iraq when his Marines are training.
“There’s no better trainer than combat experience,” he added. “I tell my guys all the time that they are going to learn more in two weeks over there than I have been able to teach them in seven months.”
Mendenhall isn’t waiting on his Marines to develop that experience. He said he feels his Marines are ready now after a seven month workup that he describes as 10 times better than what he got last year. It’s a different training environment as well, he said.
“Now you’re training a little different,” Mendenhall said. “When we trained last year we knew we were going to get to Iraq and do a nine day push. We knew we were going to see combat.”
The squad leader added that while combat is a near-certainty for his infantry leathernecks, the time leading up to departure, as well as the turnover process after they arrive in-country, is a dangerous time as well.
“The Marines have this big picture idea that they are going to be in gunfights as soon as they get off the truck, but we might not see any action for two weeks,” he continued. “Now it’s going to be a fight to keep them from getting complacent. It’s going to be up to the team leaders to make sure they keep their heads in the game the whole time.”
With the deployment to Iraq swiftly approaching, Mendenhall stresses the squad is more than just a collection of Marines with a common purpose; they are a family. As the holidays approach then pass, Mendenhall and other small-unit leaders will continue to take to heart their responsibility of preparing their Marines for war.