MARINE CORPS BASE TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- While the Marine Corps birthday is normally a “holiday” associated with the pomp and parades of centuries of tradition, dress blue uniforms, cake cutting ceremonies and roast beef found to be “tasty and fit for human consumption,” Marines often find themselves in situations unsuitable for such celebrations.
Marines with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, remained in their sweaty, field-stained desert camouflage utilities, feasted on pre-packaged military rations and spent another night sleeping on dirt under the stars with rocks for pillows.
Celebrating the Corps’ birthday at Range 400 here, the rifle companies in 2/6 learned methods of withstanding hour-long fire fights during attacks on enemy territory.
“The range showed everyone a different way to approach a live-fire exercise,” said Pfc. Joseph S. Ballard, a machine gunner with Company G. “We were all on our toes because anything could have happened, especially since rounds were flying over the heads of hundreds of Marines moving through the valley.”
The exercise, divided into three days, provided indispensable training for each rifle company as they maneuvered through a valley during a designed assault that integrated Marines with combat engineers and the battalion’s Weapons Company.
The combat engineers commenced the exercise by detonating a Bangalore torpedo, destroying concertina wire and a makeshift minefield. Once the area was cleared, machine gunners, keeping a low profile, moved fast and situated themselves atop a ridge commonly referred to as Machine Gun Hill.
“Our job was to suppress the enemy bunkers so the other Marines could reach their objective,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph W. Espie, a machine gunner with Company G. “Our constant communication, while holding down the hill, was the determining factor of our success at the range.”
Mortar rounds, sniper fire, M-249 squad automatic weapons’ fire and grenades hit their targets, providing unyielding support by fire for the rifle companies.
Once the Marines moved into place along a ridge line, the combat engineers ran ahead of the formation and used explosives to destroy another minefield, allowing safe passage for the remaining Marines in the company to continue on their mission.
Rather than using another 250-pound Bangalore, Marine engineers used the 112-pound Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System, or APOBS, carried in separate packs by two combat engineers. One APOBS pack contains a rocket launcher and the other contains 108 grenades in a nylon sock that attaches to the rocket. Once launched, the sock extends 145 feet, allowing approximately 115 feet between the Marine and the mine field.
“The pack I carried easily weighed over 50 pounds,” said Sgt. Brandon W. Blakley, a combat engineer with the battalion. “I ran with the APOBS for nearly half a mile.”
With a steady rate of fire from the machine gunners over the heads of the infantry Marines, each squad reached their designated goal and engaged their enemy with small arms and rocket fire.
Once all the objectives were completed, the exercise controllers debriefed the unit and explained what was done and what could have been different.
“I loved the training. You don’t get training like this back (at Camp Lejeune). Now if only we had some birthday cake out there!” Espie concluded with a grin.