MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The cracking of small arms fire is heard around the assault amphibious vehicle. As the door slowly lowers, adrenaline surges through the Marines of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The rear door finally touches the ground and the platoon sergeant yells the order for the Marines to exit the vehicle. The Marines sprint out and without a second thought set up firing positions and start sending rounds down range.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Chesslock, a platoon sergeant with the battalion, and his Marines played a vital role in the ground combat element for a mechanized assault in support of Exercise Steel Knight 2014 here, Dec. 13.
Steel Knight is an annual exercise that includes elements from the entire I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). The exercise focuses on conventional operations and provides realistic training that prepares the Marines for overseas operations.
“This exercise allows Marines to understand and see what the big picture looks like,” said Chesslock, a native of San Diego. “We focus so much on platoon and squad elements that these guys really don’t get a lot of chances to come out and work in conjunction with the entire I MEF.”
During the mechanized raid portion of the exercise, Chesslock and his platoon were transported in AAVs by 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion to the designated location. The Marines dismounted and engaged their targets with covering fire from a combination of tanks, light armored vehicles and air support.
“There is a lot of planning involved in an assault like this,” he said. “As the platoon sergeant, I have to coordinate with the other elements to make sure none of my Marines are put in a dangerous situation.”
Chesslock is an experienced scout sniper instructor and uses his knowledge about the infantry to mentor his Marines. He believes in leading by example, inspiring his Marines to new heights of excellence.
“This range was really an example of his leadership skills,” said 1st lt. David Deal, a platoon commander with Alpha Co., 1st Bn., 5th Marines. “A couple things went wrong, Marines started losing their cool. But he kept them together and really made this a success for our platoon.”
One day the Marines faced sleeting rain and harsh winds as they maneuvered to their next objective. The conditions strained the Marines mentally and physically with the added pressure of equipment malfunctions caused by the harsh weather conditions. This was when the Marines turned to Chesslock for guidance on overcoming these obstacles.
Even under the tremendous amounts of stress brought on by the exercise, Chesslock remained calm and collected throughout, Deal said. He attributes this to his time as a scout sniper where he learned patience and how to deal with hazardous situations.
Marines in his platoon look up to him not only because of his experience in the infantry but also because Chesslock competes regularly in Ironman competitions. This consists of a two-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26-mile run all in the same day. Even with his rigorous training for his competitions he still finds time for his Marines, performing physical training with them on a regular basis.
After he returns from the battalion’s upcoming deployment to Australia Chesslock will be competing for his professional license in the Ironman competitions.
“My day usually starts at (4a.m.). I wake up, go down to the pool and do a swim and finish in time to go physically train with my Marines,” Chesslock said. “Then after the work day I go out running or biking and end up eating dinner late in the evening.”
The Marines had pushed through and taken the objective and began setting up a defensive position. The mechanized assault concluded Steel Knight for Chesslock and his platoon. The exercise provided them with valuable experience as they prepare to deploy to Australia.