Welcome to the jungle: Marine engineers tackle tough terrain during Okinawa exercise
By CARLOS M. VAZQUEZ II | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 12, 2018
CAMP GONSALVES, Okinawa — Marines assigned to the 9th Engineering Support Battalion were exposed to a different type of battlefield setting than the U.S. has been involved in the past quarter-century during recent drills at Okinawa’s Jungle Warfare Training Center.
Engineers of four specialized companies camped out in the jungle and participated in a weeklong exercise that began Dec. 2 and consisted of rappelling steep mountain terrain, patrolling, land navigation, rope work and other basic-to-intermediate jungle environment skills.
“We are here to learn the basics so that when we are called upon to operate across the Indo-Pacific area of operations, we are able to better accomplish our mission,” Bravo Company commander Capt. Felipe Bayona told Stars and Stripes during the exercise. “If you are not exposed at least a little bit to the environment that we are going to be operating in, then it will create extra friction and make it difficult to operate down range.”
Conflicts the past 17 years have occurred mostly in desert terrain, Bayona said. Being on Okinawa allows him and his team to practice in a new arena to meet and overcome different challenges they are not used to enduring.
The training consisted of 165 Marines within the battalion, all with various job positions, practicing their skillsets and stepping outside their comfort zones.
“I’ve never done rappelling; I didn’t get a chance to do it in boot camp,” said Lance Cpl. Cesar Gonzalez. “For it being my first time, I’m a bit nervous but I’m excited about it and it looks fun.”
Gonzalez, who has been a Marine for 19 months, grew up in San Antonio, Texas. The Jungle Warfare Training Center’s vastly different environment adds another dimension to his experience, he said.
“This place right here allows us to focus solely on provisional infantry skills,” said battalion commanding officer Lt. Col. Soulynamma Pharathikoune. “Here they get motivated again and [experience] something they normally don’t get a chance to do.”
The 9th Engineer Support Battalion provides expeditionary engineering support to the Marine Air Ground Task Force, including mobility, survivability, tactical utilities, fuel storage, bulk water production and explosive ordnance disposal, according the Marines’ official website.