MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The ambush was set, the warm night air was quiet and calm until the squad leader’s voice pierced the silence. In an instant the darkness was obliterated as the squads of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, opened fire with their rifles, machine guns and lightweight mortars—leaving the ambush site in ruins.
The live-fire ambush exercise was the culminating event for Co. E’s heliborne assault operations Tuesday through Thursday to train the company’s Marines and sailors in night ambush and patrol tactics in the Combat Center’s Rainbow Ridge Training Area, said Capt. Zeb Philpott, the company’s commander.
He added that Co. E was chosen as the helicopter assault company for the battalion’s upcoming deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
After two CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters touched down at LZ Ripper, a landing zone northeast of the Combat Center’s mainside, scores of Marines and sailors with Co. E swarmed aboard to assault in Rainbow Canyon.
Before the helicopters loaded with the company’s warriors landed, four AH-1 Super Cobra attack helicopters prepared the landing zone and destroyed targets with Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missiles and machine gun fire.
As the Super Stallions landed, their crew members sprayed .50 caliber machine gun fire from both sides of the aircraft to further deter possible “enemy” combatants from attacking.
Co. E departed the aircraft and quickly moved to set up 180 degree defensive positions around the aircraft.
As each of the four waves of helicopters and troops unloaded, the leathernecks pushed into blocking positions then hiked to three patrol bases and a combat operations center, relying only on land navigation skills. From there, they “dug in” by setting up three defensive positions and sent out local security patrols, said Sgt. John Mills, 1st Squad leader for 3rd Platoon, and Orlando, Fla., native.
“The local security patrols help to make sure there are no enemies running around in the area we’re trying to set up a defense,” he said. “They help us know what kind of resistance we’re looking at.”
After the defensive positions were set and the local area scoped out, four squads sent reconnaissance patrols out before dark to observe the ambush site they would assault separately with squad-sized elements that night.
As each squad leader personally decided how they were going to ambush the enemy position, they waited for the sun to set over the desert mountains. In the down-time, the Marines cleaned weapons and ensured they remained hydrated.
Once darkness fell, the four squads each patrolled to the ambush site, and swiftly and silently got into attack positions.
The individual squads waited for the command to fire from their respective squad leaders, and upon receiving the command, each squad destroyed their targets.
The pattern of recon patrols during the day and ambushes at night continued for the remaining squads through Wednesday night. Thursday the platoon sergeants and commanders patrolled to find suitable landing zones for the extractions in the evening.
“Overall, the training is going great,” said Philpott on Wednesday. “It was hard to get things rolling, but for the first time half of the company has ever been on a helo–things are coming along well.”
Not only is the heliborne aspect of the training new to some of the company, but doing a live-fire ambush at night is a unique experience as well, added the Missoula, Mont., native.
With new experiences, comes new knowledge, which is what Lance Cpl. James Grimes, the machine gun section leader with 1st Platoon, stressed during the exercises. He said anytime he goes to the field, he has a new opportunity to learn something.
“No matter what happens, there is always some good knowledge I can pull from training,” said the Castro Valley, Calif., native. “At the very least, I can hone up some old skills.”
Lance Cpl. Matt Owens, the radio operator for 2nd Squad, 1st Platoon and Bismarck, Ill., native agreed, saying no matter how experienced an infantryman is, he will always be able to learn something new or perfect something he already knows.
Co. E will continue to rehearse heliborne assaults, patrolling techniques and ambush skills to prepare for their upcoming deployment to Southeastern Asia with the 31st MEU.