View Full Version : Point support squadron takes to field

05-20-04, 07:07 AM
Point support squadron takes to field
Submitted by: MCAS Cherry Point
Story Identification #: 200451311287
Story by Lance Cpl. J.R. Stence

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C.(May 13, 2004) -- As of Friday, the death toll for US troops in Iraq during April 2004 stood at 137, the highest number of casualties since President George W. Bush declared an end to major hostilities in April 2003. Restoring stability to Iraq has proven to be perilous, and President Bush has indicated that more troops will be sent to help. Among them will be troops from Marine Wing Support Squadron 274.

To prepare for their upcoming deployment, 37 Marines with MWSS-274 took part in a field training exercise at Engineer Training Area 3, Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 27-29 designed to refresh them on the principles required for patrolling, operating tactical weapons and functioning as a rifle team.

Classroom instruction and practical application exercises composed the first day of training. First aid, field sanitation, weapons handling, patrolling and the procedure for exiting and boarding a seven-ton truck while taking fire were among the topics covered.

Practical application followed classroom instruction. The highlight of the night was a run-through of the exiting and entering procedure for a seven-ton truck. The Marines practiced debarking the vehicle and setting up a defensive perimeter. They also applied first aid instruction, provided by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Marquis Majors, corpsman with MWSS-274, in the evacuation of injured Marines.

In critique of their performance, Gunnery Sgt. Travis C. Hanson, acting first sergeant with MWSS-274 Combat Engineering Company, said alertness, thorough planning, efficient weapon carriage and clear communication are needed in such situations.

"What we did out there was the smallest baby step we could take so far as introducing Marines to command and control," said Hanson.

"Eliminate background noise from your mind and pay attention to cues," he said. Understanding the language of the battlefield, he continued, helps a unit respond to danger quickly. When enemies come face to face, the unit that communicates better and reacts faster will win the battle and suffer fewer casualties, he said.

Training resumed the next day with reveille at 5:30 a.m. and land navigation classes. The Marines were taught how to use a map and compass to plot and find points. Afterward, their comprehension of the material taught was evaluated in a written test and applied in a land navigation course.

Next, the Marines tackled "The Beast," a 1.5 mile endurance course, which was highlighted by a knee-deep pit of stagnant, muddy water that the Marines had to dash across. After sloshing through the course twice, the mud-caked Marines gathered for Meals Ready to Eat and recounted their adventures with "The Beast" while anticipating the next event, a night patrol with blank ammunition.

With the approach of dawn, quiet intensity grew among the group of Marines from 274. With full canteens, loaded magazines, rifles, helmets and flak jackets, two rifle squads gathered to listen to final instructions from their squad leaders. Sgt. James Kane, heavy equipment non-commissioned officer with 274, warned his squad of a possible ambush threat, which was rumored to be headed by a Marine reconnaissance unit. After running through a series of hypothetical scenarios, the Marines quietly boarded their seven-tons and proceeded to their first checkpoint.

As 2nd squad's truck came to a halt, simulated enemies opened fire with automatic weapons and rifles. Chaos ensued; the squad leader was declared dead and, momentarily, the sqad was caught on their heels. Bereft of their leader, they froze up and were hit by "mustard gas."

Hanson observed their reaction to the ambush, then huddled them together and assessed their performance. He coached them on the importance of lower level leadership: understanding the job of your superiors and being ready to fill their positions if necessary.

In a final address to his Marines on the last night of training, Gunnery Sgt. Kevin V. Howie, operations chief with Combat Engineering Company, made a statement that would apply to this scenario.

It doesn't necessarily matter if the leader makes the best choice, he said.
"Make a choice and stick to it."

Second squad broke the huddle, formed a "ranger file," a single column rifle squad formation, and began the second phase of their mission: the patrol. Poor visibility, rough terrain and failed radio communications worked against them, and they returned to base at 1 a.m. without finding their objective point. They would have to make due with only four hours of sleep.

The 274 Marines were up again at 5:30 a.m. Each of them received two MREs and boarded seven-ton trucks for a firing range at Camp Geiger, where they would get to use the M-16, 240 G Medium Machine Gun, M9 mm Pistol, MK-19 Grenade Launcher and M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

Once all the ammunition, over 12,000 rounds, was spent, 274 picked up the range, cleaned the pistols, automatic rifles and grenade launchers, and returned them to the armory. Only one event remained in 274's three-day training evolution: the night infiltration course.

Barbed wire, five-foot wooden walls, two-foot ditches of water and trip flares stretch across approximately one quarter mile of the night infiltration course, a test of a fire team's ability to overcome night-time obstacles in a combat environment. The burst of automatic machine guns and wale of sirens are amped over loudspeakers to simulate the confusion of war. To feed the madness, ETA instructors prowl the course, laying into Marines for mistakes and penalizing them by declaring Marines dead or wounded.

For almost all support squadron personnel, the ETA night infiltration course was a new experience. Although 274 didn't complete the course as quickly as a group of infantry Marines who also participated, Hanson praised his unit's professionalism in applying themselves to an unfamiliar task.

Hanson acnknowledged the fact that a support squadron is less likely to be caught in a firefight than an infantry unit; nevertheless, in keeping with the creed, "every Marine a rifleman," he asserted that tactical proficiency should be the main criteria for judging the quality of Marines.

"How good can you be tactically?" he asked his unit, after the last night of training. "How proficient are you in your military occupational skill while maintaining your tactical ability?"

"No matter what your military occupation skill, there may be a time when you have to put this into practice," he said.

Lt. Michael Loiacono, commanding officer with Engineering Company, owned the concluding remarks.

"At any given minute, you're a rifleman," he said. "You need to keep that mindset."


Marines with MWSS-274 riddle targets with the M240G medium machingegun, M-16, M9 Beretta, MK-19 and M-249 squad automatic weapons during a field exercise April 27-30 designed to refresh Marines on rifle squad principles. Photo by: Lance Cpl. J.R. Stence