SAN ONOFRE, Calif.— --
All was quiet on the shores of San Onofre, Calif., the night of April 14, except for the sound of waves crashing on the shore as the tide rolled in and out.
The scene was still - almost surreal - until two Marines rose from the water slowly and aimed their rifles toward the sandy beach ahead. Their objective – find a safe landing zone for an amphibious raid force tasked with taking out a simulated lightly-defended enemy force three kilometers inland.
For the Marines of Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, this kind of training was far from what they’re use to. There were no doors to be kicked in or rooms to be button-hooked, no calls for fire support or vehicles to be dismounted. Just a quiet beach and a group of heavily-armed, pumped-up Marines waiting patiently at sea for the signal to raid.
Co. B trained in numerous maritime tactics during the last two-and-a-half months in preparation for the battalions’ deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. This is the first time the unit will deploy with a MEU in more than a decade. The final step in the battalion’s transition back to amphibious operations will be a large scale exercise designed to fit all the working pieces of what they learned together.
“This is a great opportunity for our guys to learn what it takes to operate on ship, and get to see another side of the Marine Corps,” said 1st Lt. Derek Rey, the assistant operations officer for the battalion.
Some of the classes taught to the Marines of Co. B included maritime navigation, coxswain skills, scout swimming, combat rubber reconnaissance crafts and maritime leading course, all of which are essential for the missions they will conduct as the 31st MEU’s battalion landing team. The unit will provide the unique capability to insert a sizeable clandestine force into enemy-infested areas.
The exercise started an hour after dusk, using the low visibility of night as cover to start the reconnaissance of the beach landing zone.
A Landing Craft, Air Cushion dropped 17 F470 Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts 15 nautical miles from shore to begin the raid.
“We were on the water for a while,” said Lance Cpl. Jacob King, a wave leader with Co. B. “The cold was a different type of cold – the wind just blows away your body heat.”
The crafts navigated approximately 500 meters from the shore. Eight scout swimmers took to the water and finned to the landing zone to gather information about the beach. They assessed potential obstacles, the best landing area for the raid force and enemy presence in the area.
After determining the area was safe, the scout swimmers signaled to the rest of their platoon to come ashore.
“Communication is very important,” Rey said. “Radio might not always work, infrared signals might not always work, but as long as the two types of communications overlap, the message will get there.”
On cue, waves of Marines from Co. B poured onto the ashore. They moved to quickly secure their water crafts from the surging tide and quietly pulled their boats out of the surf.
“Once we hit land, we trained so much that everyone knew what they had to do, so there wasn’t need for much talking,” King said. “But that’s not to say things went smoothly.”
As the Marines came ashore, their boats and gear gained additional weight from the brisk water crashing over them.
“The boats were so heavy 12 Marines couldn’t lift them, let alone 6, which made us realize the need to carry something in the boats to bail out the water once ashore,” said Capt. Roberto Rodriguez, the commanding officer for Co. B.
“Its good to train in horrible conditions, though, because that’s the way it could really be, and they can only get better because of it,” he said.
With all the gear and personnel accounted for, they left a small security element with the boats as the rest of the company geared up and headed for the objective just three kilometers away from the beach.
After completing an exercise almost identical to their mission aboard the 31st MEU, the Marines headed to their boats, and as quickly and quietly as they had appeared, they disappeared out into the sea.