MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, could be enjoying their morning cup of coffee, exercising at the gym or sound asleep when they receive the call to deploy within a couple of hours.
Starting October, Marines with the battalion will effectively be on call 24/7 as part of the Air Contingency Battalion.
The Marines conducted a recall rehearsal here, Sept. 26, to test the battalion’s readiness to deploy at a moment’s notice. The call came long after the typical workday finished to make sure the Marines were prepared to leave at anytime.
“I was sitting down in my room relaxing after a hard day of work when I received the call,” said Sgt. Steven Bell, a machine gunner with Charlie Company. “Obviously the day of work hadn’t ended yet.”
Bell quickly packed his gear and secured his personal belongings. He only had two hours to be at the parade deck in front of the battalion headquarters ready to deploy.
The Marines accounted for all of their gear and drew weapons from the armory. Even in September, the Marines could see their breath in the 50 degree weather.
“I think everything went really smooth tonight,” Bell said. “Everyone was ready to go well ahead of time.”
While Bell lives only a couple of minutes from the parade deck, many Marines live in the towns surrounding the base, so arriving at Camp Horno within the required time frame was a challenge.
“A Marine can be sitting down eating dinner with his family or out doing whatever they do on their free time,” said Bell, a native of Knoxville, Tenn. “Whenever they get that call, they need to be back here with all their gear and ready to go in three hours.”
This is one of the sacrifices the Marines with the battalion will endure during the next 30 days as they make up the Air Contingency Battalion for 1st Marine Division. The Marines making up the ACB will respond to any crisis, flying to anywhere in the world within hours. This requires the Marines to be ready during the month they are on call. Once their term is complete, a new battalion will make up the ACB.
“All of the Marines understand if they are on the first increment, they are on a two-hour tether,” said Capt. Christopher Palidora, the operations officer of the battalion. “They have to limit their consumption of alcohol and their liberty limits to two hours. It is part of our ‘prepare to deploy’ mindset.”
This mindset is something that Bell and his fellow noncommissioned officers emphasize to the Marines.
“We make sure everyone has what they need and everyone is in the right mindset if something were to happen,” Bell said. “We make sure they are in the right mindset by training. It’s the only way we can do it. They need to be just as mentally prepared as they are physically.”
The rehearsal is as much for the command element of the battalion as it is for the individual Marines. While the Marines have to be ready within hours to deploy, the battalion must be logistically ready as well.
“All the normal things battalions plan for on deployments are planned well ahead of time,” Palidora said. “We have to do that in about 24 hours.”
The ACB is another option, along with Marine Expeditionary Units, the Marine Corps has when a quick reaction is necessary.
“The ACB is a force in readiness,” Palidora said. “The Marine Corps ethos of ready to fight and ready to deploy is really what we are trying to encapsulate with the battalion.”
The air contingency battalion can be used to respond to a variety of situations including humanitarian disasters, noncombatant evacuation operations, embassy reinforcement and terrorist attacks.
Bell said the Marines would be ready for any emergency. They want to be the first ones out the door and answering the call.
For the next month, Marines of First of the First will be ready to go when and where they are needed as quickly as possible. Whether they are driving to work, sitting down at dinner or sleeping in their homes, they know they could be the first to arrive on the scene of any contingency.