YUMA, Ariz. -- The Marines and Sailors of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, conducted defensive operations training during a three-day portion of Talon Exercise 1-16 at Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Arizona, Sept. 7 to Oct. 26, 2015.
The training took place at Baker’s Peak, a rugged desert training area located on the approximately 1,700,000 acre Barry M. Goldwater Range and was part of the larger event Talon Exercise, which focused on offensive and defensive operations in desert and urban environments.
The battalion was inserted by CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and then immediately dug into a defensive perimeter that mimicked what is used in combat. The Marines and Sailors used fighting holes to conceal and protect themselves from observation and attack from the enemy who constantly probed the lines with simulated automatic weapons and notional indirect fire.
“We started to go into the defense when we got dropped off,” said Lance Cpl. Henry Mesker, a rifleman assigned to Company E. “The defense position is utilized for holding a certain piece of ground or to prevent the enemy from using a certain piece of terrain.”
Marines and Sailors from the battalion were used as role-players acting as an opposing force to make the training challenging and more realistic. The rest of the battalion was forced to prevent the “enemy” actors from penetrating the defensive position, move personnel through supply routes and to receive essential resupplies of food and water.
Before conducting the battalion level defense of Baker’s Peak, the Marines spent just short of a month to re-familiarize and practice the basics of desert and urban warfare infantry tactics. They conducted helicopter raids, ambushes and a variety of other tasks to ensure they were prepared for any desert or urban scenario they may encounter in a real-world combat situation.
The blanket of darkness and minimal light pollution in the desert night created an environment where the enemy could stay easily concealed, affecting the Marines in the defensive positions ability to observe or interdict enemy movement.
“We pushed out patrols during both the day and night,” Mesker stated. “We either did security patrols, contact patrols or recon patrols. This allowed us to observe if anything changed overnight or if the enemy moved positions.
The exercise gave the Marines and Sailors of the battalion the opportunity to experience the intricacies of a defensive position prior to having to use one in an actual operation.
“This gives us the opportunity to go through the processes of building a defense, making mistakes, identifying those mistakes so we can build standard operating procedures for the battalion,” McGrury explained.
The exercise was made more challenging by the long nights on watch and patrols added with the blistering Arizona heat during the days.
“Being here in Yuma, the heat is a huge challenge,” Mesker explained. “It affects both sides of the battlefield but these Marines have had to just grind it out requiring them to dig, provide security and wear gear in the heat.”
The Marines, who are stationed in Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, are no strangers to the challenges faced by conducting warfare training in the desert. But the unique ranges surrounding MCAS Yuma and the proximity to air support, gave the battalion a more robust training opportunity.
“It’s been nice to come out here and do some of the ranges,” Mesker added. “Being in Twentynine Palms, we do a lot of live-fire ranges … since we’re so close to [MCAS Yuma] we have a lot of access to air … which we don’t get … in Twentynine Palms.”