Twentynine Palms -- A cool autumn night in the southern Mojave Desert, a chill settles over the Marines of “First Team’; the only visibility comes from the pale moon light. A palpable silence settles over the Marines. Then, as quick as lightning strikes, a breaching charge explodes rupturing the tranquility with a litany of mortars launching and machine guns firing.
Marines with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, assaulted through Range 400 as part of their night time combined-arms live-fire exercise aboard the Combat Center Nov. 16, 2016.
Range 400 affords a reinforced rifle company the ability to conduct deliberate offensive operations and integrate heavy machine guns, 81mm mortars, scout snipers and combat engineers against a fortified position.
“Every infantry unit in the Marine Corps that comes here for Integrated Training Exercise runs Range 400 during the day,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Kroll, assistant operations chief, 1/7. “We own the night and doing a CALFEX without light as an infantry unit correlates directly to real life. If you look at the biggest operations that the Marine Corps’ has conducted in the past 15 years, like Operation Phantom Fury or The Battle of Marjah [Operation Moshtarak], the Marines kicked-off the assault at night.”
The Marines commenced the exercise by walking through a terrain model of the area and planned out their assault on a small, accurate scale. Once the planning phase was complete, the Marines waited for the cloak of night to begin their assault.
“We can do CALFEX’s all day long,” Kroll said. “But doing them at night poses an added challenge. The Marines who carry out the assault in a condensed area, with little light, using night vision googles definitely are a testament to this unit’s proficiency. There is nothing special about what we did, it’s more so the fact of where the unit is now with proficiency and their comfort level of the fundamental skills.”
According to Capt. Levi Hofts, intelligence officer, 1/7, the greatest challenges were working in a non-illuminated area and coordinating all assets like machine guns and mortars, all while incorporating overhead fires as rifle companies maneuvered beneath them.
“At all levels there is a lot to be gained all the way from the young [private first classes] to the officers coordinating the attack.” Kroll said. “For officers, it validates their standard operating procedures and the more the young Marines do here, the more comfortable they are going to be if and when they are called upon to do it in real life.”