MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA Ariz. -- Station Marines from Combat Service Support Detachment-16 worked in conjunction with Marines from the 7th Engineer Support Battalion and the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif. to complete a deliberate bridge crossing and convoy over the Colorado River, part of Exercise Desert Scimitar, May 8 to10 at Cibola, Calif.
The exercise was the first of its kind to take place since Gen. George S. Patton trained his armies for World War II in the wilderness of what is now the Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., and the exercise was a first for the Marine Corps. The bridge crossing was the principal objective of Desert Scimitar and the culmination of many hours of planning and labor.
The hard work and sweat of the Marines in the field produced one 70-ton bridge that enabled a 498-vehicle convoy to cross the river safely and continue to their final destination, Marine Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
According to Sgt. Joel Eddings, heavy equipment chief, the Marines constructed the bridge from 21 separate pieces. The final product spanned across 439 feet of river and was 21 feet wide.
"It's actually a lot bigger than everyone expected," said Eddings. "People had an idea in their minds that it would be more narrow, but large vehicles have to be able to cross it and make it to the other side."
The bridge crossing exercise was an important experience for the Marines because they had to deal with things like putting together the pieces of a bridge while the current is moving at five feet per second, said Eddings.
"This gives the Marines experience handling problems as they arise. Even a lot of the junior Marines are getting very involved with giving ideas to solve problems as they come up," said Eddings. "I try to involve all my Marines as much as possible."
Across the river, at YPG, Marines from CSSD-16 prepared vehicles for the convoy over the bridge.
The number of vehicles handled by the small detachment of Marines was more than most had experienced, but the Marines completed the mission aptly and gained from the experience.
"This is definitely the largest number of vehicles I've worked with in one exercise," said Lance Cpl. Jason Roof, motor vehicle operator, CSSD-16. "It's difficult work but it's good experience. It's motivating because it's out of the routine and I also get to be a part of history. This is the first time the Marine Corps has done this."
The experience of working with a large convoy in the field teaches Marines to get used to the different climate, the dangers of convoying, and many things that can only be learned in a field environment, said Lance Cpl. Toby Rehak, wrecker support division, CSSD-16.
"I love the field experience," said Rehak. "And, I think Maj. Motley is doing a great job. He makes sure to bring the junior officers out so they can learn from the experience."
Using a real-world experience is the best way to teach the Marines their job, said Eddings.