CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Marines drop their packs and salute the American flag as they go aboard the USS Kearsarge (LSD-3), a proud naval vessel that has harbored Marines and sailors for more than a quarter century. After their journey by bus to Naval Station Norfolk, Va., April 9, 2015 ... more than 200 Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, quickly find themselves underway to the North Carolina coastline, where they will assault enemy forces by air and sea.
Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division strap into a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter and readjust their gear before lifting off from the USS Kearsarge to LZ Phoenix, Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 13, 2015. More than 200 Marines from 1/6 traveled to Norfolk, Va., to board the USS Kearsarge, April 9-13, 2015, in support of Combined/Joint Operational Access Exercise (C/JOAX) 15.1. Marines simulated being part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) element deployed to conduct ship-to-shore assault on Onslow Beach, Camp Lejeune. The unit aimed to enhance skills in amphibious planning and execution, and to refine small unit urban operations during training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kaitlyn Klein)
“I don't really mind being on ship,” said Pfc. Hunter Bynum, a rifleman with the battalion, and a Birmingham, Ala., native. “This is my first time ever being on one. It's a good change of scenery and it's a great experience.”
Although there were some seasoned junior Marines among the battalion, many had graduated from the School of Infantry a couple of months ago, immediately following boot camp. The infantry tasks they could fulfill with ease just yesterday, suddenly seemed more challenging. Understanding how to operate as a team aboard ship and preparing to carry out their upcoming complex mission was the task at hand.
The exercise they were supporting, Combined/Joint Operational Access Exercise (C/JOAX) 15.1 is a highly complex combined, joint exercise led by the Army's 82nd Airborne, and supported by British forces. The battalion's primary mission was to provide a diversion to allow the simulated main effort, II Marine Expeditionary Force, to attack the north and complete their mission. In conjunction with 1st Bn., 6th Marines' assault from north to south, joint military forces combined to conduct air drops and assaults off to the west.
As the shock factor of this new environment on ship wore off, the Marines established a structured schedule and were able to accomplish their day-to-day tasks with more ease. They grew accustomed to the cramped sleeping quarters, the narrow corridors, the endless line for chow, and the seemingly-impossible to memorize layout of the ship.
“Our junior Marines have been doing a good job finding their way around the ship,” said Cpl. Tyler Buskirk, an intelligence specialist and a Douglas, Mass., native. “We've been giving them [professional military education] and getting them up to train in the mornings. They're getting a lot of guidance from their senior non-commissioned officers.”
After three days at sea, the USS Kearsarge anchored in Onslow Bay, 5,000 yards off the coast, in preparation for the assault onto two separate objectives, in support of the exercise scenario. Early Monday morning, Marines of Charlie Co., loaded the Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAV's) and splashed into the ocean to pursue their objective to the north, located at Mobile Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) village.
Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division take cover against a wall during a mock-firefight aboard Home Station Training Lane (HSTL), Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 13, 2015. More than 200 Marines from 1/6 traveled to Norfolk, Va., to board the USS Kearsarge, April 9-13, 2015, in support of Combined/Joint Operational Access Exercise (C/JOAX) 15.1. Marines simulated being part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) element deployed to conduct ship-to-shore assault on Onslow Beach, Camp Lejeune. The unit aimed to enhance skills in amphibious planning and execution, and to refine small unit urban operations during training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kaitlyn Klein)
As the AAV's splashed towards shore, two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters loaded with Marines and combat cargo lifted off from the USS Kearsarge. One Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopter with U.S. Army reconnaissance escorted the head of the CH-53E's to secure the objective landing zone. Once the helicopters received the all clear from the Kiowa, they touched down and deployed the Marines who continued to assault north towards the Home Station Lane Training (HSLT) village.
The Kiowa remained overhead, providing close air support for the Marines as they engaged mock-enemy role-players, populated by Co. A.
“This training is unique because it has the ability to combine forces of the Navy, the Army, and the Marine Corps and work our combined capabilities in a joint environment,” said Lt. Col. Jason C. Drake, the commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “It goes across all the warfighting functions, such as administration, intelligence, operations, logistics, and communications, that we get to work not only as a service with our other sister services, but with a strong ally such as Great Britain.”
Drake expressed his battalion's eagerness to support C/JOAX 15.1, as well as the substantial meaning behind getting his Marines aboard ship.
“We are soldiers of the sea, and we have been that way for almost 230 years of our history,” said Drake, an Ahoskie, N.C., native. “1/6 Hard is a great battalion, and what makes it great is the Marines and sailors who serve this battalion. We will be forever linked with the U.S. Navy for our amphibious capabilities. This is what we do and this is why we do it. It's good to be back on ship and see these Marines perform.”
1st Battalion, 6th Marines returned last October from a nine-month deployment in support of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). During that time, the Marines were forward on ships, supporting the crisis in Yemen and in the Persian Gulf, as well as supporting embassy security and helping in the Sinjar Mountains of Iraq.
Since then, the unit has taken on more than 200 new Marines, who will build their infantry skills over the next year in preparation for their next MEU in December. The battalion is looking at another deployment in spring/summer of 2016.
By U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Kaitlyn Klein
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