ARMY NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- The drivers killed the lights, and the light armored vehicles set out as darkness swallowed the road ahead. The Marines with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, nicknamed the Highlanders, peered through the curtain of black as they cautiously rolled through the deserted path during a weeklong field exercise here, Nov. 18 through 24.The road turned into a narrow tunnel of grainy, green images as the drivers turned on their night vision devices.
“We have to be much more disciplined when we’re scanning, using night vision goggles,” said Sgt. Christopher Clifton, a light armored vehicle crewman with Delta Company, 1st LAR. “That’s why training at night is good for us. Night is the most difficult time because it’s dark and we can’t see much. So it makes everything we’re doing harder.”
Night is a great time to attack because people tend to get tired and complacent, said Clifton, who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. They let their guard down.
The vehicle commanders kept constant radio contact with one another, and reported back to headquarters.
“The command tells us where the waypoints are and where we are going to end up,” said Lance Cpl. Eric Bernes, an LAV crewman with Delta Co., and a native of Richmond, Va. “In case a vehicle goes down, they need to know as soon as possible to make sure everyone is keeping up.”
During the maneuver, the LAV crewmen constantly scanned the range for pop-up targets that consisted of enemy troops and vehicles that the crew located and destroyed with live fire. The crew trained on the range for a couple of hours and the targets popped up at random. This forced the crew to always be on the alert. They never knew exactly when or where the targets would appear. The scouts had a hard time because their eyes started to get fatigued from the night vision goggles and targets became hard to pick out, said Clifton.
The weather presented more challenges while the Marines executed the night maneuver and live fire in rain and temperatures below freezing.
“We don’t always have the best weather,” Bernes said. “We get cold, wet and our fingers get numb. We have to learn to adapt and overcome and do our job when the conditions are terrible. ”
The Marines understand the importance of conducting live fire ranges in arduous conditions to better prepare them for operations overseas.
“Training like this gives us a chance to show Marines how ready they are after the exercise,” said Clifton, a native of Fairfield. “It allows Marines actual gun time as opposed to the computer simulation. They’re actually out there so they have to deal with real gun jams and difficult weather to train in. We gain better crew cohesion and that’s the best way to prepare Marines for deployment.”
The night maneuvers and live fire exercises the Marines executed helped them maintain combat readiness and prepared them for upcoming deployments in support of the Marine expeditionary units (MEUs). When the companies with 1st LAR come together, they will prove they are a deadly force.