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Every clime, place: Desert Marines become mountain warriors

By Lance Cpl. Jakob Schulz | | September 9, 2010

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Yuma Marines returned to the station Sept. 4, 2010, after spending nearly a month supporting predeployment training operations at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif.

The 32 Marines supported infantrymen from 1st and 2nd Battalions, 5th Marine Regiment, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., marking the first time aviation installation personnel have supported operations at MWTC Bridgeport.

Throughout their first two weeks of training Yuma Marines received classes on a variety high-altitude survival topics ranging from extreme weather survival clothing and equipment, patrolling at high altitudes and movement over rough terrain to survival nutrition.

“The classes were very helpful,” said Pfc. Josh Edwers, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron food service technician. “They taught me how to use the resources available to me and how to prepare myself for a stay in the mountains.”

After finishing their initial high-altitude training the Marines were also educated on enemy tactics being employed in Afghanistan, so that they could effectively simulate enemy operations, and better prepare the infantrymen for their scheduled deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.

“Coming to this school is important for Marines going to Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. James Hayes, MWTC instructor. “It gets them out of the Iraq and desert fighting mindset and prepares them for the enemy that they are going to face in the mountains of Afghanistan.”

After completing all their preparatory training, the Yuma Marines put their knowledge to work in the second half of their stay. Disguised as enemy combatants, they executed various simulated ambushes and attacks on the infantry battalions high in the mountains overlooking California and Nevada.

“Having live role players out here while the Marines are training is what makes the training so helpful,” said Cpl. John Servel, MWTC Bridgeport instructor. “It lets the grunts actually point their weapons at someone, do dead checks, search the bodies and practice their standard operating procedures. It adds an aspect of realism that they wouldn’t get if we just said, ‘Hey, there is the enemy over there, go attack them.’”

The infantrymen were even more appreciative than their instructors.

“It’s the pretty cool to actually have someone to aim at,” said Pfc. Steve Leppanen, squad automatic weapon gunner, with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, who was preparing for his first deployment. “Having real people also makes the ambushes more realistic. Normally, we just charge a hill, however, with real people we have to plan our attack and really work together to flank and overcome the enemy.”

The infantrymen were also pleasantly surprised at the Yuma Marines quick grasp on fighting tactics that they were previously completely unfamiliar to them.

“I was really surprised with the wingers,” said Lance Cpl. Phil Hill, rifleman team leader, Golf Company 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “They definitely learned faster than I expected and really grasped how the Taliban fights.”

Yuma Marines returned to the desert with a feeling of accomplishment.

“We did our job in preparing the infantry for their deployment,” said Capt. Kyle Ugone, station deputy comptroller. “The Marines did a great job in imitating the Taliban as best they could. This training also brought the air wingers together with the grunts and we got to do more of the important things that I don’t think the Marines get to do everyday in Yuma.”


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