5/19/2012 By Cpl. Andrew D. Johnston , 2nd Marine Division

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — “Who goes there?” shouted a Marine, there was no response. Sounds of cracking branches with the rhythm of footsteps echoed in the distance as he clutched his rifle tighter. Silhouettes emerged from the tree line creeping toward his position.

“Who goes there?” he shouted again. Once more there was no response. The eerie silence was answered with loud cracks of gunfire as a squad of Marines blasted their weapons toward the figures. “Enemy in range and enclosing; engage!” he yelled. Luckily it was only a simulation for the receiving end.

This was the scene for Marines with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, who conducted a battalion field exercise May 14-18. The purpose of the event was to evaluate small unit leadership and their teams in order to set the foundation for building stronger squads.

“Essentially this is our fireteam level battalion exercise evaluation,” Maj. Derek M. Snell, battalion executive officer, said. “We’re evaluating all of our fireteam leaders and team members on the core skills that support our mission essential tasks designated by the battalion commander.”

Lance Cpl. James W. Sitaras, from Miami, Fla., said he got to know his team members very well over the course of several days. Together they battled torrential downpours, simulated enemy attacks, sleep deprivation and dug fighting positions.

Sitaras wiped sweat from his camouflage painted face and swatted bugs as they buzzed around him in his fighting hole. The infantryman with India Company laughed when he was asked about his fellow fireteam members.

“It’s not enjoyable out here digging in these weather conditions,” Sitaras smiled as his buddy loffted a shovel full of sludge out of their trench. “You get to know someone really well when you’re not in a pleasant situation. You find out how they’ll react when things are at their worst.”

For Sitaras, the solidarity formed within his team and having to deal with these types of situations builds confidence with each other and better prepares them for the real deal.

“We’ve got newer guys here now, and going through everything with them is going to build that unit cohesion quicker,” Sitaras said. “The most important part of our training is building trust and confidence with each other. Knowing the basics is good and all, but it comes down to being comfortable with the people you’re with and trusting them when it really hits the fan.”

Snell, from Granville, Ill., explained how training Marines at the fireteam level was crucial to the overall effectiveness of the battalion. Basic military knowledge training starting at the lowest level prepares Marines to lead others and creates unit readiness, he said.

“Primarily our intent is to build good fire teams; then we’ll move on and build good squads,” Snell said. “If you have good squads you’ll have good platoons. If you have good platoons you’ll have good companies—then you’ll have a good battalion.”

Throughout the week Marines practiced military operations in urban terrain, patrolling, weapons systems, improvised explosive device lanes, defensive operations, tactical decision making and basic infantry skills.

Sitaras said he looks forward to taking a shower and getting some of his wife’s cooking once the training is over. He said the exercise has better prepared him for his unit’s upcoming deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“We’re getting back to the basics out here and that’s what we need to focus on at a fireteam level,” Sitaras said. “Once we’re part of the 26th MEU and called on as a (Battalion Landing Team), most likely they’ll be sending us because something bad happened. This training builds camaraderie that gives us the confidence to know we all have each other’s back. It’s true; building a good battalion starts at the fire team level and that’s what we’re focusing on out here.”