Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif --
A tarp hung over an alleyway, connecting the empty buildings of the Combined Arms Military Operations on Urban Terrain town at Range 220A. Below the tarp, a group of Marines and New Zealand Army soldiers sat around on worn out chairs and benches talking and joking.
The Marines wore their desert utilities while the New Zealanders, commonly referred to as “Kiwis,” wore their own tri-color green camouflage uniforms. If you ignored the variations in their accents, you would have never thought they were from opposite ends of the world.
“When you look at a United States Marine and a Kiwi soldier, you see very little difference,” said New Zealand Army Major Chris Rothery, officer commanding, 2nd Field Squadron, 2nd Engineer Regiment, New Zealand Army.
The Kiwis arrived at the Combat Center at the beginning of this month to train with 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion Marines. This was the first time Marines have trained with the New Zealand Army in 27 years.
The Marines and Kiwi soldiers worked together, sharing knowledge through training during integrated exercises at the Combat Center. But the time between these training exercises left Marines and Kiwis with plenty of time to get personally acquainted.
“We just talk and have that bonding, get to know each other,” said Pfc. Victor Fotu, combat engineer, 3rd CEB. “We talk about what we do in the military, what we do as Marines. They tell us what they do.”
During chow, they traded items in their Meals, Ready-to-Eat packages as they talked about shared interests, movies, games or sports.
It was a mirror image of the basic construct that makes up what all Marines do during their downtime in the field. Wait, talk, eat and wait some more. Just like the Marines, Kiwis had their ‘gym rats,’ gamers, bar hoppers, and of course, the “boots.”
The men even shared similar mannerisms. The group of Kiwi soldiers seemed interchangeable with most regular units in the Corps.
“It’s been quite fun,” said New Zealand Army Sapper Nicholas Scott, combat engineer, 2nd Field Squadron, 2nd Engineers Regiment, New Zealand Army. “There’s been some stuff that’s different between us and the Marines, but then there was a lot that was exactly the same.”
Similarities between the cultures extended beyond the military. “They were showing us some of the music they listen to,” Fotu said. “The music we listen to, they listen to, too.”
They talked about movies they had seen here and there. The Marines asked about the filming of the “Lord of the Rings” series in New Zealand. The Kiwis talked about “Forest Gump,” even quoting a few lines in the slow iconic drawl of the famous character. That led them to their next topic of discussion.
When the Marines grew comfortable around the soldiers, they playfully joked about their unfamiliar accents. The Kiwis’ responses was that the Marines were actually the ones with funny accents.
The Kiwis went so far as to fake an American accent, which they pulled off pretty well. The Marines dared to mimic the New Zealand accent, but without much of the same success.
“Every time someone tries to do a New Zealand accent, they end up sounding like an Aussie,” said New Zealand Army Sapper Bryce Luckin, combat engineer, 2nd Field Squadron, 2nd Engineers Regiment, New Zealand Army, laughing.
The Marines’ newfound friendships with the Kiwis surpassed their time together in the field. Outside of training, the Kiwis spent much of their time with Marines, being shown around the Twentynine Palms area, hanging out at the barracks playing games or watching movies together.
During a liberty period, some of the Marines even took some of the soldiers to Las Vegas for a memorable day before the group left the Combat Center.
After nearly three weeks at the Combat Center, the Kiwis packed up and headed for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., for the next phase of their training. There, they will train with 1st CEB Marines.
“We’re going to continue to go to Camp Pendleton and continue meeting Marines and building those relationships,” Scott said.