"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Guam jungle fever

Let's see, I believe I left off in the aftermath of torrential rains and much weeping and gnashing of teeth by those whom it soaked. The next morning was sunny and beautiful, and hot and humid and wretched, all at the same time. It was hot enough, at least, to dry out everything after the deluge the night prior, but still so humid that whatever we were wearing on our bodies retained a fine sheen of sweat throughout the day. Today's agenda was planning for the night's MRF assault on a local abandoned power plant to evaluate our urban combat capabilities. It sounded pretty challenging; unlike the various artificial "combat towns" built specifically for military use on Okinawa, this was a no-kidding civilian power plant that hadn't been altered in any way, so it would have twists and turns absent from our generally simple training complexes. But that afternoon, word came down that, as part of the larger scenario, our battalion would launch a combined mech/helo raid on a separate location just a few hours after the hit on the power plant. The mechanized portion would come from the Light Armored Reconnaissance platoon that was hanging out with us, and because they were supposed to secure the objective early, prior the helos coming in, they needed someone to coordinate with the close air support aircraft on station to make sure they didn't light us up by accident as they rolled in. So, I was attached to LAR, which meant I wouldn't be going on the power plant raid. This was a little disappointing, since the MRF's hit on the power plant was the first time in several years the Marine Corps had gotten permission to train out in town in Guam. But rolling with LAR is a pretty good consolation prize. I've often said that if I can't fly into battle at the controls of a 53, then I'd rather ride into battle in the back of an LAV. It's the closest you can get to charging into the fray in a Cadillac. I'd gone on several training missions with LAR already, so we were used to each other; plus, we were going to ride through town to get to our objective, and after three straight weeks on the boat I was ready to see a little American civilization.

We awoke before dawn and rolled out in darkness. Civilian Guam is like pretty much any mid-sized American city, and I tossed out the notion that maybe we should take our column of LAVs and hit the drive-through at Mickey D's before we got to the target. If we weren't on a timeline I think the LAR platoon commander would have given it serious consideration. There was one amusing incident where the real world came crashing through our notional scenario: a Guam police car pulled over one of the LAVs because it's headlights weren't working, so for about five minutes the whole column pulled over as the platoon commander hashed out with the cop whether we'd have to leave one vehicle behind until daylight. Fortunately the cop was sympathetic and let us continue under the assurance that the bad vehicle would stay in between vehicles with good headlights. Kudos to that police officer for having the cajones to pull over a 30,000 pound armored vehicle in the first place. As it turned out, he and most Guamians (Guamites?) are quite supportive of the military's presence there; we got lots of waves and honks going to and from our mission. The mission itself was actually less interesting than the transit to and from, since daylight revealed a city that could've been in southern California if not for the fact that one could see virtually the whole island from one place. It made me a little homesick imagining driving those vehicles right up to my house and hopping off to see my family.

The raid itself did have some interesting moments though, starting when we discovered that the road we'd planned to take into the objective town was blocked. Knowing the training group that evaluated these raids, we figured this meant trouble, and we were right, since the alternate route into the town turned into a run-and-gun ambush that we blasted our way through. I was having my own kind of fun in the back of the LAV because I could hear aircraft overhead but couldn't talk to them as my line of sight was blocked by thick jungle. So, the incoming heliborne assault force had no idea that we were late and would not be able to isolate the objective before they arrived. When we finally got to our blocking positions, though, we discovered that something in the plan had changed, because suddenly aircraft started coming straight for the field we were in and dropping troops off; not part of the plan that had been emailed to us the night before. We had to move one of the LAVs out of the way since it was not immediately clear that the incoming aircraft saw us in the pre-dawn light, landing, as they were, at that tricky time in the morning when it's too bright to use NVGs effectively but not bright enough to pick up significant details - like a platoon of armored vehicles - on the ground. But nobody got squished, so having finally established some communication with the aircraft, we hooked around one of the flanks of the combat town and started getting into the fight. After about three hours the town was cleared out and we rolled back to our CP to get ready for extract back to our ships. Luck was with me that afternoon; I was originally slated to go back to the Essex on one of its LCUs late in the afternoon, but the battalion XO decided to push me back with the CO and some of our small vehicles by air. So I got a ride back to the boat on a 53 piloted by some of my old squadron-mates, and avoided what turned out to be a goat-rope with the LCUs at the beach, who wasted hours figuring out precisely how to load everything back up and then did circles in the ocean waiting to offload onto the Essex, making most of their passengers seasick in the process.

About thirty seconds after our wheels touched the deck I went back to my room, stripped off my nasty clothes and took one of the greatest showers ever. Two days of jungle sweat and grime came off of me, though the head cold I'd picked up somewhere between the rain storm, humidity, and overall lack of sleep did not go away. Yet the MRF's work was not done; we still had our evaluated VBSS to do before we could close the book on our part of CERTEX. We had a rehearsal scheduled the day immediately after getting back on the Essex, but it was canked at the last minute due to the Navy driving our ship into a 150-mile wide storm their forecasters hadn't quite foreseen. The day after was our final chance to execute the mission before the target ship left for other parts, and it seemed questionable as to whether it would happen since the swells and winds were still pretty strong. But they were just within limits, so we loaded up the birds, hit the ship, and - apart from my radio antenna literally disintegrating in my hands - successfully boarded and captured the same target ship (for the third time). With that, the MRF was considered officially certified, and we were put into our little glass box labeled "Break in case of emergency" until needed. (There's obviously a lot more that goes into taking down a ship than I've described here but you'll understand if I don't blurt out all our tactics, techniques and procedures [TTPs] for any scurvy pirate to study).

With VBSS in the bag, the ARG steamed back to Oki for CERTEX Part II: The Return of the Son of CERTEX. The focus of part was humanitarian assistance, disaster relief (HA/DR), noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO), and the certification of our AAV assault company and contingency units (Tactical Recovery of Aircraft/Personnel platoon [TRAP], platoon-sized emergency reinforcement, and mass casualty response team). I didn't get any play during the humanitarian assistance portion, but I did get off the ship - for a few hours anyway - with the TRAP platoon, launched in response to a simulated downed aircraft (this was fairly realistic, actually: a CH-46 actually shut down in the landing zone and the crew members had stage make-up applied to simulate their wounds, so the TRAP platoon had to dress the wounds and sanitize all the sensitive documents and gear on the bird). After we were inserted the word came down that, rather than stay in place only a couple hours as TRAP is supposed to, higher wanted us to stay overnight to guard the aircraft. This was definitely news to us, and rather unwelcome, since TRAP only launches with enough supplies to sustain them for what is supposed to be a very brief stay on land i.e. we had no shelters, overnight gear, or MREs. After a little while higher changed its mind, and the last aircraft of the day came to grab us as the sun was going down (once again, 53s to the rescue).

And, that's where things stand right now. We still have the mechanized amphibious raid ahead of us, but I don't have any play in that either. Once that's done, we start steaming our merry way to the Philippines for a ten-day stay in a flood plain during monsoon season. Should be fun. I'll try and get some pictures; hopefully my POS cheap water-proof camera will hold up. Until then, stay classy real world, and thanks for stopping by.

1 comment:

Tammy said...

Thank you for your blog. I'm a mom of a 31st MEU. Your blog gives me a chance to understand what my Marine is experiencing. Thanks again!