Hundreds practice maneuver, live-fire tactics near Mount Fuji
CAMP FUJI, Japan — Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 stormed the ranges near this tiny installation last week to practice maneuver and live-fire tactics.
The occasion: Cloud Warrior 2004, an annual event bringing about 250 Marines north, from Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, for a month of intense training in Mount Fuji’s shadow.
“It’s been a good month of training,” Lt. Col. Yori R. Escalante, squadron commander, said Friday.
“Iwakuni does not have many readily available training areas” but Camp Fuji is “the largest maneuver-training area on the mainland. … Today, we’re simulating a move into an unsecured area. It’s something we don’t get a chance to practice very often. It definitely gives us an opportunity to hone those skills.”
And it’s essentially the only time all year the squadron — with companies specializing in airfield operations, motor transport and engineer operations — gathers for a full-strength training session.
“We’re all out here to do basic-skills training,” said Capt. Greg Lewis, commander of the squadron’s Engineer Operations Company. “It’s our one big chance to do it.”
The squadron arrived at Camp Fuji on Aug. 26.
Since, the Marines have scaled Mount Fuji and endured two typhoons and three earthquakes.
In between, they said, they managed to refine the tools that let them provide quality aviation ground support and air base ground defense.
The squadron rehearsed defensive tactics for seven days before hitting the ash-coated valleys near Mount Fuji last week for live-fire and maneuvers training.
Also, “We practiced effective convoy operations and defensive procedures for convoys, using an insurgent-type enemy,” Escalante said.
“In our defensive training, we started with patrols and progressed through a company defensive package.” That culminated in a two-day exercise “where we moved to, occupied and defended the Camp Fuji Main Airfield from an insurgent-type enemy similar to those currently in Iraq.”
“When you’re working toward the defense, you have to go on offense, too. We have to be proactive instead of reactive in the defense of an air base.”
Friday, the squadron incorporated all the training into a “fire and maneuver” session. On one range, squads carrying M-16s and other light machine guns took turns engaging two berms loaded with enemy “targets.” They had to negotiate rolling, rough terrain that stretched just longer than five football fields. As they moved in, a twin set of M240Gs — the “talking guns” — sprayed cover fire from bunkers to protect their advance.
As the squads approach, the guns were positioned several yards from each other. They took turns firing — in effect, “talking” to each other — but “when fired from a distance, it sounds like one gun going off,” said Cpl. Patrick Barlow of Engineer Company, an M240 gunner in the Iraq War.
“The ‘talking guns’ … don’t allow the enemy to pinpoint a certain gun,” he said.
“There are a lot of young Marines out here, and many will be going to ground units at some point. They’ll use a lot of this when they get there.”
The training is a change of pace, indicated 2nd Lt. Julie Ervin, the squadron’s heavy equipment platoon commander.
In Iwakuni, most of the Marines work as mechanics, welders and heavy equipment operators. “It’s very important that they get this infantry training and re-familiarize themselves as much as possible,” she said. “Every Marine is a rifleman first. When they go into combat, no matter what their MOS is, they’re warriors first.
“The Marines here have done very well this week,” she said, given that the exercise requires skills they seldom exercise.
Cpl. Ryan Shaner and Cpl. Jasman Duque, heavy equipment operators with the squadron’s Engineer Operations Company, took part in convoys while serving in Kuwait together. They said young Marines headed for war zones should find the skills being practiced invaluable.
“We do go through classes back in Iwakuni, but live rounds are a whole different thing,” Shaner said.
The scenarios are designed to illustrate the predicaments Marines would face in real combat, Duque said. “There are a lot of holes out there, and it’s very hilly. You can’t just stand up, see the enemy and fire on them. ‘One shot, one kill’ is what Marines do. We don’t waste rounds. We shoot to kill.”
Squadron members will conduct routine maintenance this week. Friday, after a morning hike, they’ll break around lunch for weekend liberty. Many plan to visit Tokyo before returning to Iwakuni on Monday, unit members said.
Because of this year’s Cloud Warrior, Escalante said, “We now have a basis to grow from, in our ability to not only conduct defensive operations and an airbase defense but also what is involved to command … such operations.
“The big take-away is that each company now understands what their role is in this mission, how it interrelates with the roles of the other companies and how it is controlled at the squadron level. … This operation also allowed our junior leaders to practice the small-unit leadership. … They were able to be the front line of leadership in the squadron, ensuring their Marines are well trained and well taken-care-of while training.”