MARINE CORPS BASE 29 PALMS, Calif. --
The weight of an M240B machine-gun: 27.6 pounds. Ammunition: 10 pounds. A Marine’s combat load, including water, spare barrels, flack-jacket with bulletproof plates and Kevlar helmet: 80 pounds.
Seeing two 150-pound Marines, each carrying two-thirds of their bodyweight in gear sprinting up a mountain under simulated enemy fire, reaching the top, setting up their weapons and supporting their fellow Marines during training in three minutes and 55 seconds: priceless.
While two of the machine-gunners, Pfc. Samuel Lian and Pfc. John Gann bolted to the top of the mountain, their fellow Marines with 2nd platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, maneuvered on fixed enemy positions during a platoon-attack course at Marine Corps Base 29 Palms, Calif., June 3, 2011.
“Getting up there, I was dying, but you get done and you feel proud that you did your part in supporting the (other Marines).” said Lian, who like Gann is new to the unit, both having recently finished training at the School of Infantry.
The exercise, conducted on Range 410 aboard the training facility, requires the Marines to interpret one another’s movements while they advance on their objectives. All the while, they fire downrange at obstinate green targets, which pop back up tauntingly shortly after being knocked down, simulating an enemy’s response to the Marines’ advance.
“Mentally preparing for this range is pretty tough — knowing that your buddies are coming in to the left and right of you,” said Gann. “There’s no room for error, even on a range and especially in combat.”
Overcoming the confusion during the exercise while still keeping focus on the objective provides the Marines with a rare but indispensible opportunity, explained Lance Cpl. Jamison K. Hardy, a team leader with the machine-gunners of Company B.
“I think before coming here, some of the Marines had a pretty good idea what to expect,” Hardy said. “We put everyone on the line and got to see how flexible they were. It gives you a good basis to evaluate yourself. Anytime you can get critiqued is invaluable.”
In the shadow of machine-gun hill, below Lian and Gann, Marines sporting vibrant orange flak jackets, called coyotes, move the rest of the platoon as they push toward the trenches. The coyotes reported on the direction and effectiveness of incoming fire, adding chaos to the situation and making the training feel as close as possible to the fog of war one feels in combat.
“It went pretty well. You always have to change on the move, but we adapted well, as if that was how we planned it – which is how it should be, things are always going to change,” said Cpl. Nathan T. Moran, a team leader with 2nd platoon.
The training forced the Marines to work autonomously, operating independently of the platoon and at times, their squads – a trait that could pay dividends on deployment, Moran explained. “We try to get the guys to think for themselves – individual action is what we’re striving for. You need to be locked on target but you can’t be sucked into the scope.”
As the platoon closed on its objective and completed the range, the Marines made their way back to where they had staged their gear and slept the night prior, waiting for their debrief. As they shed sweat-soaked flaks and refilled canteens, their team and squad leaders sat among them, offering their observations and critiques.
It was then that the true learning took place: the junior Marines had a moment to look back on what they had just accomplished and began to realize that in a few short months they wouldn’t be firing at targets and there wouldn’t be instructors guiding them – it will be real and they will have to rely on their own instincts and intuition.