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Members of 1st Platoon, Company A, 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion, Multi-National Force - West, await air transport aboard a CH-53E helicopter Aug. 22 at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. The battalion, now tasked as the quick-reaction force for MNF-W after four months of serving as a provincial rifle team, is learning their new responsibilities as the QRF. The Marines constantly hone their abilities and teamwork.

Photo by Sgt. M. Trent Lowry

Trackers shift gears, serve as heliborne reaction force

25 Aug 2008 | Sgt. M. Trent Lowry

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (August 23, 2008) – Marines with Company A, 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, Multi-National Force - West have epitomized the ability of Marines to adapt and overcome by serving outside of their normal military occupational specialty duties in order to bring safety and security to Iraq.

Marines with 4th AA Bn. are trained to operate the Assault Amphibian Vehicle in ship-to-shore missions and embody the Marine Corps’ amphibious approach to warfare.  Since deploying to Iraq, the Marines from this reserve battalion haven’t even seen an AAV in operation.

Instead, the “trackers” – a nickname derived from the tracked wheels of their AAVs – have been serving as a Provincial Rifle Infantry team for four months at Combat Outpost Albu Hyatt and now have assumed responsibility as the heliborne quick reaction force for MNF-W.

“Whatever it is they’re asked to do, these Marines will get it done,” said Maj. Christopher B. Watson, commanding officer of Co. A., 4th AA Bn., from Norfolk, Va.  “They are very good at what they do.”

When the company was conducting intermediate location training at Camp Pendleton this spring, the Marines were warned to expect a change in operational plans.

“When we were mobilized, we were told to prepare to do the tracks mission and to also act as a provincial infantry company,” said 1st Sgt. Matthew D. McMenimen, first sergeant for Co. A., from Washington, D.C. “Then they told us, ‘no tracks.’”

The battalion, with companies from Norfolk, Va., and Tampa, Fla., took their marching orders and trained to operate as an infantry unit, but that wasn’t the end of the changes for the Marines.

Some of the trackers spent time served in small units on riverine patrol craft, which was more similar to their original amphibious mission. However, the battalion received orders to stand up as the Heliborne Quick Reaction Force for MNF-W to cover all of al-Anbar province, the North Carolina-sized area of responsibility for MNF-W.

“Being trackers, the heliborne mission, conducting assaults via helicopters, is new to everybody,” McMenimen said.

Because the mission was so new, someone had to be first, and 2nd Platoon, Company A served as “guinea pigs,” according to McMenimen, in learning the new mission.

“The focus has to be more on the fire team leaders,” said Staff Sgt. Adrian Check, 32, platoon sergeant with Co. A., from Newport News, Va.  “When we were acting as a provincial rifle team doing foot patrols, the squad leaders were more involved.

“The QRF mission makes the fire team leaders need to think more tactically about things like geometries of fire and such,” Check added.

The Marines adapted quickly, according to 1st Lt. Latate Wilson, 32, assault platoon commander with Co. A, from Vero Beach, Fla. When 2nd Plt. became proficient in QRF tactics, they became the instructors for the other Marines in the battalion.

“This unit is flexible,” Wilson said.  “Marines adapt and overcome, and this proves that.”

In order to be able to act quickly, the mission must come second nature, and so the Marines continue to practice, practice, practice.

“Rehearsals are where you make your money,” Wilson said. “They’ll do four or five evolutions before things go smooth, and we’re just trying to give them as much rehearsal time as possible.”

“We hashed it out when we were training, and found our best practices, and now the sergeants are teaching it to everybody else,” Check said.  “Our teaching is very consistent, so everyone will be on the same page, from platoon to platoon. We’ve been stressing teamwork, too, and the sticks and fire teams are free thinking so they can call that audible, because as soon as you hit the deck, things can change.”

Having to be able to respond to an emergency anywhere throughout the Western Iraqi desert, the QRF team has to be ready to go at the drop of a boonie cover, but in a humble way, the Marines are confident they’re ready.

“The expectation is that they’ll excel,” Watson said. “The general mindset of this unit is that ‘good enough is not enough.’ Expecting to do better than what’s asked of us allows us to be very adaptable to the mission sets we receive from higher (commands).”

While Watson is proud of his team, he says the high standards are inherent in being a Marine, and the proof is in the improving state of affairs in Anbar province. It’s 4th AA Bn.’s mission, now, to see that the province remains secure.