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‘America’s Battalion’ takes on Sierra Nevada Mountains

2 Nov 2012 | LCpl. Ali Azimi

The Marine Corps offers an expansive number of training areas located all around the world. They them take Marines away from their home stations and set them under new and extreme conditions they have not been exposed to before.

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, were taken out of the tropic island beaches and delivered to the Sierra Nevada Mountains of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif.

“Mountainous terrain takes up a lot of the environment on the earth as well as areas where we can possibly be engaged in a decisive fight in the future,” said Sgt. Warren Sparks, team leader, Mountain Leaders Unit Training Group, MCMWTC. “We should be ready to fight in any clime and place.”

The MCMWTC provides a venue for Marines to learn to operate in a mountainous environment. But the terrain and altitude here can make any task monumental.

“I think it was an exposure to them of the different parts of the Marine Corps has to offer for training,” Sparks said. “It was a slap in the face when they first came here, as far as elevation, coming from sea level to 7,000 ft. at base camp to start training.”

Hawaii’s training areas feature high-altitude mountainous terrain and other rough landscape, but nothing like what they met at MCMWTC.

“Hawaii offers an array of training areas. We have the Kahuku training area, which is mostly jungle, somewhat mountainous but not as high elevation as here,” said 1st Lt. Richard Aronson, executive officer, Company L, 3/3.  “The Pohakuloa training area is at high altitude but you don’t have as severe terrain. This is definitely a great opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and come up here and train to the mountain standards.”

Many Marines from 3/3 traveled from the Hawaiian islands to Bridgeport with an expectation of what they would be encountering. They had hiked through rough terrain and high altitudes before. They understood Bridgeport might be a little tougher, but some underestimated the extent.

“A lot of us came out here thinking kind of cocky because we thought that the Kahuku training area in Hawaii had a lot of hills,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Nolan, squad leader, Co. L, 3/3. “We kind of got a reality check around day three when we moved from Penguin to Sardine Rock and we started rappelling with main packs and we were all kind of like, ‘Wow this is not Hawaii.’ I think overall we have adapted pretty well.”

The Marines spent 12 days in basic mobility, learning to effectively traverse the terrain with gear. They were familiarized with all aspects ranging from survival to tactical proficiency. They were tested mentally in their knowledge as well as physically on the mountains.

“Bridgeport is a little different from Hawaii, which is my baseline. It’s not a jungle, but you’re still going up hundreds of meters of elevation at a time and that can be pretty rough,” Nolan said. “I think the biggest shocker for me was every time you go up a hill there’s just another one after it, so you’ve got to get used to that.”

After their 12 days of lessons and acclimation mountainside, the Marines were ready for their five-day final exercise. The FINEX combined everything they had learned throughout their stay at the MCMWTC.

“It’s warm in the day time out here. They sweat a lot, lose a lot of hydration. At night time, temperatures drop. They get cold and wet,” Sparks said. “The first night or two they had snow and rain. They were experiencing a lot of that.”

During the FINEX, 3/3 Marines conducted ambushes, casualty evacuations, vertical cliff assaults, defensive operations and patrols through the rough mountain terrain. The wide expanse of land provided Marines with a setting to conduct their company-sized training that they could not easily do in the training areas at home.

“They both bring something to the table that’s unique. Bridgeport has a lot of company-sized training that you can’t do in Hawaii because there isn’t a lot of open terrain,” Nolan said. “On the flip side, Hawaii offers you a lot of squad-level training which is good for me as a squad leader and my squad. It really works on unit cohesion when you work on that small unit leadership.”

After five days of traversing the steep mountains, 3/3 Marines traveled to main side and prepared to head back to Hawaii.

“We’ve taught them a lot of things to help them when they go back to Hawaii with the wet environment as far as waterproofing their bags and dealing with the environment,” Sparks said. “I’ve sat down with a lot of Marines and they’ve said it’s the best training they’ve ever had. Hopefully they take a lot from this place.”

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