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Marines with Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, reload their M777 howitzer during a call for fire for Operation Urban Thunder, at the Combat Center’s training area May 17, 2011. Operation Urban Thunder, a combined arms exercise held by local units and those from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., is led by Regimental Combat Team 7.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Norris Pavala

Operation Urban Thunder

23 May 2011 | Lance Cpl. D. J. Wu

In the age of Enhanced Mojave Vipers, select units aboard the Combat Center elect to do it the old fashioned way, with a Combined Arms Exercise.

Marines falling under Regimental Combat Team 7 headed into the Combat Center’s vast training area for Operation Urban Thunder.

The operation that started May 9th lasted until Thursday and took months of planning to execute.

“We couldn’t do this anywhere else,” said Sgt. Maj. Troy Dabney, the First Tank Battalion sergeant major, about how unique the Combat Center is. “On no other base could we do an exercise of this scale.”

The Marines of Urban Thunder made full use of the Marine Corps’ largest base, having their operations spanning all across the Combat Center’s training grounds. The 10-day operation gave the Marines to practice many of their core competencies.

“Being a tenant unit here at Twentynine Palms, and to take advantage of everything the base has to offer, with the support of the base has been wonderful,” said Col. Austin Renforth, the commanding officer of 7th Marine Regiment. “And I think this really showcases everything that this base can do.”

Staff Sgt. John Harwood, section leader for gun 2, Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment said, “I think the operation is smoothly,” he added, “With the amount of rounds they gave us, we’re going to get a lot of practice.”

Mike Battery along with Lima Battery made up the artillery support for the operation. The batteries played an integral role in the forward advance as well as their egresses. The batteries were also supplied with plenty of ammo to help in the fight.

“It’s the largest amount of artillery rounds I’ve seen in one place,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Barrick, the commanding officer of 1st Tank Battalion.

All units followed the leadership of RCT-7, which guided them throughout the operation and helped the units get the best training possible.

“I think that we’re getting good training out here,” said Lance Cpl. Jacob Sheffield, an assaultman with Tube launched, Optically-tracked, Wire command data link, guided missile platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Tank Battalion.

That sentiment was felt throughout the ranks and all over the operation.

“We need to do this kind of training more often,” Dabney said.

All aspects of assault were utilized in the exercise, including tanks, mine-clearing line charges, artillery, TOW missile systems, amphibious assault vehicles, mortars and infantry.

Every unit had their part to play in the CAX.

“Everyone’s job is important, because ultimately we’re supporting the rifleman and it is those fire teams that win the battles,” Dabney said.

Every Marine made the most of Operation Urban Thunder. Their 10-day stint in the field, gave them the opportunity to utilize and practice their skills in conjunction with varying units to maximize the potential in the field of battle.

Renforth said that we should not forget what we can do on the Combat Center. Although EMVs seem to be the marquee event here, we can still encompass the full spectrum of combat arms in Twentynine Palms.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms