Camp Guernsey Army Air Field, Wyo. --
At an altitude approximately 5,000 feet above sea level, it’s easy to get winded. Add in freezing temperatures, strong winds and a roughly 70-pound pack and you have the conditions that Marines from 2nd Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, II Marine Expeditionary Force, trained in for over three weeks aboard Camp Guernsey Army Air Field, Wyo., recently.
The distinct climate was chosen for a reason. Wyoming has striking similarities to Afghanistan in both cold weather and rugged terrain. These conditions proved to be optimal for preparing the unit for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. Their senior leadership also explained they wanted to get away from possible distractions. With nothing but open plains and hills as far as the horizon, it’s quite possible they succeeded.
“The terrain and weather is very beneficial,” said Sgt. Al Porter, a role playing insurgent, 2nd ANGLICO. “It’s great preparation for combat situations and they get hands-on experience.”
ANGLICO works as a liaison between the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and allied forces. They provide organized teams that embed with coalition units to coordinate fire support. During their training these four to six-man teams were vigorously tested.
For their final evaluation, the troops were given a two-day event consisting of 20 different exercises, covering around 19 miles of terrain, at elevations over 5,000 feet above sea level.
The various exercises tested them both mentally and physically. They were asked to navigate through the mountains, endure the freezing temperatures and run through several scenarios at each station.
On the second exercise, a group of six Marines patrolled to their training location very cautiously. Cows Moooood at their presence and an old, eerie barn heightened their awareness. When a role player exited the barn asking for medical aid, Capt. Craig T. Fitzhugh, supporting arms liaison leader, 2nd ANGLICO, felt something was amiss.
“We decided not to take the road and go up over by a ridge where there was a little cover and we could see what’s going on. At that time, a role playing local national, flagged us down,” said Fitzhugh. “Something seemed off – he knew we were coming, which set off a red flag in my mind. He was trying to entice us to go into the ranch to help his friend Bob and I told him I thought it would be safer to stay out here and asked him to bring Bob out to us.”
Fitzhugh’s decision saved his group from an ambush of role-playing insurgents who awaited them in the barn. Although they made a great decision, the exercise didn’t end there. After the avoided ambush, a medical evacuation scenario was given to the Marines. They had an injured civilian that needed to be moved to an evacuation location.
The task seemed simple enough except for two variables. The location was in a clearing almost a mile up a hill and the injured man weighed 250 pounds.
I’m lucky I have good Marines and strong guys, it’s just basic Marine stuff – and Marines don’t quit,” said Fitzhugh, who has deployed twice to Afghanistan. “What I told them the night before is to go in with the mindset like we’re going to combat. We’re training for war. So I said, ‘gentleman when we go out tomorrow I want you to act like you’re in combat and perform like you would in combat because you train like you fight and the more you put into an exercise like this the more you’re going to get out of it.’”
Strained faces signaled the weight was difficult to carry. Although already carrying packs that varied in weight from 45-70 pounds, the Marines managed to push on. As the team worked up the hill, snow began to fall and hot air puffed from their mouths like little steam engines working together to reach the summit.
“It was hard physically, because I’m short,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Kim, fire support man, 2nd ANGLICO, with a smile. “But mentally it was harder because I didn’t want to fail my team. It was all extremely hard, but I put my mindset as if I was in Afghanistan. I wouldn’t give up, because in the end if I fail, someone might get hurt. So I had that mindset when I was going up the hill.”
As the team reached the clearing atop the hill, the group successfully defended their position from an attack and evacuated the injured. Over the course of the two-day event and three-weeks of training, the Marines gained experiences in patrolling, conducting medical evacuations, radio communication efficiency and various other skills necessary for their military occupational specialty. The experience gained through the training was a testament to why the Marines had traveled specifically to Wyoming.