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Sergeant Letty Y. Vazquez, a food service specialist serving with Combat Logistics Regiment 17, serves dinner to Marines with 1st Marine Division during Exercise Desert Scimitar here, May 1, 2013. Vazquez, a 25-year-old native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was attached to the division for nearly two weeks to prepare and serve hot meals for more than 600 Marines and sailors. Her team of food service specialists often worked more than 20 hours each day to feed the division.(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jacob H. Harrer)

Photo by Sgt. Jacob Harrer

Headquarters Battalion keeps 1st Marine Division operational during Exercise Desert Scimitar

9 May 2013 | Sgt. Jacob Harrer 1st Marine Division

When 1st Marine Division needs a headquarters in the field, the Marines and sailors of Headquarters Battalion make it happen. 

During Exercise Desert Scimitar, April 23 to May 6, HQBn. set up camp for more than 600 Marines and sailors supporting and operating the division’s command post.

The division staff required a reliable communications network and consistent logistics support to execute the large-scale command and control exercise. The Marines and sailors arrived early to prepare the camp for their arrival, said 1st Lt. Ryan J. Holmstrom, the battalion’s logistics maintenance management officer.

Communication is key

Communications was a major factor in the setup of the command post, said Col. Joseph J. Russell, the Hq. Bn. commanding officer. 

Each company and battalion operating with 1st Mar. Div. required telephone, radio and data services. It was crucial for the division staff to maintain accountability for all Marines using internet services. Additionally, tactical field radio and text capabilities allowed the headquarters to communicate with thousands of Marines participating in defensive and offensive scenarios.

Initially the Marines encountered difficulty sending and receiving transmissions. They discovered the camp was located on top of a large iron ore deposit, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas E. Oren, the division communications chief. 

The iron contained a strong negative charge, which decreased the effectiveness of the radio antennas, added Oren, a 41-year-old native of Keokuk, Iowa. To counteract the strong negative charge of the ground, the communications Marines devised a hasty solution. They weaved a net of wires attached to the positively charged antenna, creating a false ground, or counterpoise. 

The wire net counteracted the negatively charged iron ore and vastly improved the strength of radio communications throughout the camp, said Sgt. Jevin U. Rainey, a battalion field radio operator. The results were immediate.

“We started out with challenges with the radio systems,” said Maj. Mark C. Brown, the division current operations officer. “After a couple days of that, the communications came on point. When we started the offense, everything was clicking. We received all our reports, and we knew what was going on. The (command operations center) was busy, and things were tracking. We were executing missions. Everything was in sync.”

The Marines maintained effective communications for the division staff throughout the duration of Desert Scimitar, allowing them to control the division in a simulated combat operation.

Logistics train

While communications helped drive the command and control mission, logistics support allowed the Marines to maintain supplies, health and morale for two weeks in the field.

The 1st Mar. Div. headquarters featured many amenities needed to keep Marines healthy and morale high, said 1st Lt. David M. Foran, the assistant logistics officer with Hq. Bn. 

Coordination with 1st Marine Logistics Group was crucial, added Foran, a 25-year-old native of Harrisburg, Penn. With help from Combat Logistics Regiment 1, the battalion provided hot meals, an expeditionary field kitchen, laundry and shower facilities, radio and satellite communications, waste disposal, power, transportation, fuel and clean water.

The Marines with CLR-1 worked long hours to support 1st Mar. Div. Several food service specialists worked more than 16 hours each day to prepare and serve hot meals for every Marine and sailor in camp, said Sgt. Tony T. Pressley, the head food service specialist serving with CLR-1.

The assistance from CLR-1 enabled the Marines to maintain a camp for longer periods of time, said Russell, a native of Iowa City, Iowa.

“It’s really a city in the desert,” Russell said. “The coordination is very important. We can’t fight without logistics. Logistics often drives prioritization of effort.”

Logistics directly affect Marines’ health, which is a crucial factor in mission readiness, Foran said. Fresh food and water, laundry and showers help prevent illness and boost morale, allowing Marines and sailors to continue their mission effectively.

“When you’re working from day to day, especially in a staff position, Marines are a lot more effective when they’ve had good chow and they feel clean,” Foran said. “A lot of these things are definitely morale related. The better morale is, the better your Marines are going to work. Many of these things, while they are nice to have, are also important to keep Marines working hard.”

Desert Scimitar in retrospect

The Marines continued to support the 1st Mar. Div. staff until Desert Scimitar successfully concluded, May 6. Headquarters Battalion’s efforts helped many commanders and staff members refine their command and control skills, readying the division for future operations.

After two weeks executing their mission at the Combat Center, Russell is even more confident in the abilities of his Marines and sailors.
“I’m very impressed by it all, the amount of work, the effort to build that camp and maintain and secure it,” Russell said. “It’s an amazing testimony to the Marines and sailors our battalion provides for the division. It’s all on the hearts and strengths of those Marines.  In the end, this main command post commands and controls the division through the efforts of each and every Marine supporting it.”
1st Marine Division