View Full Version : Laughing in the face of frustration

12-07-02, 02:47 PM
By Franklin Fisher, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Sunday, December 8, 2002

POHANG, South Korea — Daylight was fading fast, and the Marines had to move out.

With temperatures below freezing, the patrol faced a long night march through steep, wooded hill country to attack an “enemy” position. Their patrol was one small facet of a three-day mock battle staged Nov. 25-27 involving 1,300 U.S. Marines and 500 of their South Korean counterparts.

They’d reap some important training benefits, but they’d also soon be cussing mad with frustration.

In the end, unit pride and a tight “grunt” camaraderie carried them through: Swearing gave way to wisecracking humor, and, ultimately, to song and laughter.

The Marines were part of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, out of Twentynine Palms, Calif.

On a six-month training stint in Okinawa, they deployed to South Korea in November for a month of combat training that ended last week.

They came for Korea’s hilly, broken terrain, which can be tough on combat troops, but worth it.

“I mean, absolutely, it’s great to train in terrain like this,” said 2nd Lt. Ryan Benson, commander of 2nd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

The training afforded Benson’s platoon a stiff workout in basic infantry skills — squad-maneuver techniques, security formations, hand-and-arm signals, use of radios, night-and-day ambushes — things they practice at their home base in California.

But for all the benefits they gained from the usual infantry training, the steep-sloped hills and dense foliage may have given the platoon its most valuable lessons.

“At one point, I had a Marine go down with a twisted ankle, and we weren’t there yet, and one of the NCOs said ‘OK, we gotta get there,’” said Staff Sgt. Nathan Aucoin, the platoon sergeant. “So one of the NCOs took his pack and went up the hill with two packs.”

“It was a lot of work,” said 2nd Squad’s leader, Cpl. David Wimberg. “We go on one patrol or on one mission, and then, as soon as we’d completed it, we were tasked with another one. It was pretty much constant moving.”

Timing is everything

The Marines on this patrol, roughly 40 who were part of an aggressor force for the battle, had just hiked about 700 meters to a thickly wooded ridgeline, where they dropped their heavy packs, set up a patrol base and awaited an intelligence update from the company commander.

“You can have ’em start putting on their warm layers if they start getting cold,” 2nd Lt. Ryan Benson, platoon commander, told Aucoin, the platoon sergeant.

Sometime after 5 p.m., with the sun sinking on the horizon, their orders came in by radio.

Benson was tasked to probe for gaps in the defenses of the South Korean platoon. He would lead his Marines out about 1½ kilometers, or “clicks,” to meet a 5-ton truck. Allowing for terrain, they’d actually cover more than 2 clicks. The truck would ferry them near a South Korean marine unit role-playing as part of the U.S.-Korean allied force.

There was one catch — and it caused the Marines some frustration that night. The Korean Marines stopped training at 11 p.m., so the patrol would have to hit them before then.

“We need to be getting out of here fast,” Benson said. “We’re losing daylight fast.”

At about 6 p.m., the patrol moved out. For nearly two hours, under a sky suffused with a chill, milky moonlight, they threaded single-file through narrow woodland trails, up steep slopes, down even steeper slopes and across the sharp, wobbly rocks of dry streambeds.

Some hills were so steep the Marines had to pull themselves up by grasping narrow trees and branches. Going downhill, they hit patches of loose earth and braced themselves for a rough sliding descent, skidding sometimes 10 or more feet.

An hour and 50 minutes from the time they’d left the patrol base, the Marines came out onto a road for their scheduled link-up with the 5-ton truck.

Time was tight.

They jammed themselves into rear of the truck, and about 15 minutes later jumped out onto a road flanked by frozen paddies that lay pale in the moonlight.

Benson deployed his patrol in a 360-degree security posture and moved out snipers to try for “eyes-on” contact with the enemy.

He huddled with Aucoin and their squad leaders in the paddy field to the north side of the road. The ground was hard and studded with the sharp, jagged remnants of harvested rice stalks.

Another intel update came in by radio: An enemy company lay south about 200 meters in front of the patrol.

“Right above this road is that ROK [South Korean] battalion,” Benson whispered. “We need to stay on this side. … Our job is just to screw around with them, but we gotta do it fast, because the ROKs quit training at 2300,” he said. “What I want to do is go one squad at a time … Let us know where the ROKs are.”

Ready to strike

Soon, to the west, they could hear vehicles, and men calling to one another in Korean.

Benson positioned his squads for “hasty ambush,” including an assault team equipped with the MK-153 SMAW, which fires an 83 mm rocket.

They were about to go through one of the exercise’s smaller frustrations. To avoid angering local villagers by firing blank ammunition, the Marines were ordered to simulate fire by shouting gunfire noises.

As the jeeps rolled into the kill zone, a Marine yelled “ROCKET!” and the rest of the platoon opened fire.

“Ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack! Ack-a-ack-ack-ack-ack!” they shouted. It sounded like squawking ducks.

The South Koreans returned fire. “Ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack! Ack-ack-ack-ack-ack!”

The jeeps continued east down the road and pulled to a stop about 500 meters out.

Benson’s snipers radioed that the Koreans had dismounted their vehicles and dashed inside the tree line south of the road. Benson shifted his platoon east in hopes of bagging the enemy while there was still time.

Soon, Cpl. David Wimberg felt sure he had the enemy fixed inside the tree line. With infantry hand-and-arm signals, he brought his squad south across the road, and they took up positions facing the wood line, weapons at the ready, awaiting word to close in for the kill.

While his squad was poised, a call came over Wimberg’s radio. He gave vent to an expletive. Then another.

“That’s it,” he told his troops. “We gotta go back. They want us to come back ’cause the ROKs are quitting at 2300.”

There were plenty of lessons for Lance Cpl. Jose Ramirez, the land navigator in Wimberg’s squad.

“These were pretty rough hills, so I learned to pick the routes a lot better so we wouldn’t have to go uphill so much or through such rough terrain,” Ramirez said.

“After all the movement we made these three days,” said Benson, “they all made it. They were fantastic. There was no complaining, they did their job and they did it well, and I think it gives them more confidence, knowing we were able to do our job these last few days.”

“I think seeing how far they can push themselves is going to be a big benefit,” said Aucoin. “Physically, by the end of this thing, these guys are whupped. And they just gotta keep going.”

On the road again

Nearly five hours had passed from the time they pushed out from the patrol base. Humping the hills for hours and the cramped truck ride as well as the prospect of a second truck ride, then a good long hump back uphill to their base made for a long day. The Marines turned their annoyance to good humor heading back in the 5-ton. One started a familiar country song, and many joined right in:

“Take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more.

A woman done left and took all the reasons I was fightin’ for …”

“You oughta hear us sing ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,’” Lance Cpl. Curtis Gilbey said later.

By midnight, they’d trekked back up to the patrol base. Soon, they were in their sleeping bags. Their new orders had come in a few minutes earlier.

Stand-to at 5:30 a.m. and move out again to “aggress” the enemy.

Early the next morning, with the stars right where they’d left them, the platoon rolled up their sleeping bags, swung into their rucksacks and moved down the ridgeline in a cold, gray light for another day of training.


Courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps
Racing the sunset, Marines of 2nd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, move into the hills south of Pohang, South Korea, to set up a patrol base during a recent three-day mock battle.


Courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps
On the move again, Marines of 2nd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, start a third day of patrolling in the rugged hill country south of Pohang, South Korea, during a recent mock battle.




12-07-02, 02:58 PM
Korea is some rough terrain...seems like after humpin' 2 clicks, all uphill; if you turned around and followed your footsteps back, it's all uphill. Can't say I miss any part of Korea but I know these Marines finished tougher than they started.

12-07-02, 04:44 PM
Yeah they should call it operation frustration or maybe operation cluster f**k! I did it in 88 what a Quagmire! Hump up the mountain get in a CH-53 ride down the mountain, HUmp back up again. After 10 days then a dog and pony for the commandant and other high ranking officials back for a slow and rocky ride on one of the navy's cruise liners to Okinawa. But it did build character and leg muscles.