Marine reservists are playing a large role in the Crocodile ’03 exercise in Australia.

Those on deployment from Okinawa and others on their way back to the United States following Operation Iraqi Freedom are among the 2,700 Marines and sailors from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade training with the Australian Defence Force in Northern Australia’s Shoalwater Bay Training Area.

The 4th Amphibious Assault Battalion, which includes reserve units from Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Virginia, served as part of the 3MEB’s ground element, assisting Maritime Preposition Forces by unloading heavy equipment and hauling it to Camp Sam Hill, according to a Marine Corps press release.

“The ground-pounding grunts from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment were able to attack and destroy several objectives and handle multiple tasks dished out to them during an aggressive and fast-paced training schedule,” the release stated.

“We were able to give the company commanders more flexibility and speed when they were tasked with missions,” said Gunnery Sgt. Tim Bruggeman, the 4th AAV Battalion’s maintenance chief. “We tactically deployed them on the battlefield. While they were closing in on targets, we were able to provide more coverage by throwing out firepower from our AAVs.”

Each AAV was loaded with 21 infantrymen. As they rushed from the vehicles to secure targets, the AAV crew supported them with their turret 50 caliber machine guns and grenade launchers.

Bruggeman said the exercise, which is scheduled to end Thursday, gave the reservists a chance to brush up on combat skills they don’t normally work on during routine drills.

Meanwhile, reservists from the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion out of Salt Lake City, on deployment from Okinawa, got an opportunity to reacquaint themselves with their weapons, according to Marine Corps public affairs officials.

“The last time we were able to fire these weapons was while we were in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said 1st Lt. Alex Howard, a platoon commander.

Howard was pleased with the unit’s sharpness in pounding targets some 1,000 meters away with a 25 mm cannon attached to a light armored vehicle while other members laid down a base of fire from a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun.

“It can be quite difficult to maintain a base of fire while maneuvering the LAV,” Howard said. “However, if done correctly, like the Marines did, it is highly effective and destructive to enemy personnel because the amount of firepower is overwhelming.”

Reserve duty has been stressful — but rewarding — for the Marines, the press release stated.

“These have been some stressful times,” said Cpl. David Massey, 27, a gunner with the 4th LAR from Utah. Massey joined the Reserves in March 2000.

Life was looking pretty good to him earlier this year. Massey, who has bachelor’s degrees in finance and political science, was all set to attend law school in November and got married June 10.

But 15 hours after the wedding ceremony, his unit was activated to the Persian Gulf. Then, after several months, it was sent to Okinawa as part of a six-month unit deployment. However, his employer, Morgan and Stanley Inc., continues to pay his salary as an equities trader and Fordham University has extended his acceptance for next year, the release said.

“It made it much easier to cope by having my job, my school and, especially, my lovely wife supporting me while I serve my country,” he said.

He said he’s bonded so well with his unit that he will fly back to Utah once a month from New York City to remain with his fellow Marines.

“They have become my family,” he said in the press release.

The stress has not deterred him.

“I’m staying in,” he said. “If I am deployed again, then I am going to once again put my life on hold. These experiences have changed my life for the better and made me a better person.”

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