Some 450 U.S. Marines and sailors from Okinawa are, once again, in South Korea for combat training that will give them an extensive workout in battlefield engineering skills with their South Korean counterparts.

Included in the training are a detachment of 30 U.S. Navy Seabees as well as Navy medical corpsmen who will operate a field surgical hospital.

The Marines, along with their bulldozers, forklifts, tractors and bridge-erection boats, will hold their training at various points north of Seoul as part of the Korean Incremental Training Program, or KITP. The program brings servicemembers to South Korea twice yearly, typically for infantry training. But this time, it’s a little different.

“They’re scheduled for twice a year and normally they’re infantry-focused. However, this KITP is focused more on engineering operations,” said Col. Dan Melton, deputy commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces-Korea in Seoul.

The Marine engineers will practice laying bridges across rivers, scouting terrain for obstacles and mines and setting up fuel points as they would in a war zone, among other scheduled training. Much of the training will be with South Korean marines and soldiers, and some will include a U.S. Army unit.

A U.S. Marine medical unit also will take part.

The Marines and sailors arrived earlier this month at a South Korean naval base in Pohang, on South Korea’s east coast, aboard a high-speed vessel that made two trips from Okinawa. The exercise is to wrap up in early November, Melton said.

“The focus of their training is on interoperability of command engineering forces,” said Melton. “However, there will be some training and work with both U.S. Army and ROK Army units.”

Among Marine units taking part are the 9th Engineer Support Battalion, the 3rd Medical Battalion and the Third Transportation Support Battalion, all elements of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.

The 9th ESB’s Bulk Fuel Company will practice fuel distribution at a training area north of Seoul with the U.S. Army’s 267th Quartermaster Company from Fort Lee, Va.

U.S. Navy medics assigned to the 3rd Medical Battalion’s Shock Trauma Platoon will show South Korean troops how they set up and run a battlefield medical station called the Forward Resuscitative Surgery System, said Melton.

The system serves to stabilize the severely wounded until they can be evacuated to a field hospital or other treatment facility, Melton said.

“If we can keep them alive and stabilize them, we can get them back to get the treatment they need,” he said.

As engineers, the Marines had to bring plenty of heavy equipment with them.

“Because it’s an engineer support battalion, they usually have a large footprint in terms of heavy equipment,” said Capt. Christopher Annunziata, deputy logistics chief with U.S. Marine Corps Forces-Korea. “Every Marine is an infantryman — they also have to bring their individual fighting load, which includes their packs, weapons … all their standard vehicles, Humvees … ” he said.

South Korea’s varied and difficult terrain affords many essential training benefits to Marine engineers, Melton said.

“It is, I think, critical to be able to operate — a lot of restrictive terrain, a lot of small rivers in different places,” he said. “So it’s essential training and it’s something we haven’t really focused on as much in the past,” he said.

Another key payoff will be working with South Korean forces, Melton said. Last Friday, for example, Marine combat engineers used bridging material to make rafts for four South Korean tanks, then used boats to haul the rafts across the water during a mock river assault with South Korean marine and army units.

“They’re doing a combined effort, side-by-side with their ROK marine counterparts,” said Annunziata. “In general, they’re training as they’re going to fight. And every year they come here, twice a year, and its such an important part of their training.”

Senior Marine Corps brass in the Pacific have called for an increase in such training in South Korea, Melton said, and Marines likely will be “doing more and more” of it in the future.

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