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Marines with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, patrol during a squad tactics exercises aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 9, 2014. The exercise gave assualtmen, mortarmen and machine-gunners an opportunity to coordinate with each other while assaulting through enemy positions during a large-scale raid. 1st Bn., 1st Marines, conducted this training in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Okinawa, Japan.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Jonathan Boynes

1/1 sharpens small unit leadership skills during squad tactics training

17 Apr 2014 | Lance Cpl. Jonathan Boynes

Dozens of Marines moved up the steep, rocky hill with their eyes wide and their heads on a swivel. As they edged closer to the top of the hill, small, green targets became faintly visible in the distance. The Marines dropped to the ground and began firing. Overtop sporadic bursts of machine-gun fire and the sharp cracks of M16’s, commands were shouted directing the assault and pushing the attack forward.

For three days the Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, conducted squad tactics training aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 9, 2014. The training was designed to help the Marines work better as individuals and as a team. 

“When everyone is organized and understands the mission at hand, everything goes a lot smoother,” said Lance Cpl. Luis Villa, a squad leader with the company. “Success starts with the individuals that make up the larger team. This training gave everyone out here an idea of how effective our combined efforts really are.”

The training was primarily focused on strengthening small unit leadership skills, but with the additional support of machineguns, mortars and assualtmen, Marines saw a broader array of tactics and units being implemented during the exercise.

The Marines’ objective was to move from the assembling area to the end of the training area where a series of pop-up targets had been positioned. Each run through the course took approximately 40 minutes and each section played an important part in successfully completing the exercise. 

Marines manning machineguns and mortars showered targeted areas with suppressive fire from atop a hill while riflemen and assualtmen breached through barbed wire and other defenses and closed in on the distant enemy targets. 

All of this is carefully planned and coordinated before the training starts, but each Marine must be flexible and able to quickly change course during the live-fire exercise.

“There’s a lot of moving parts from start to finish,” said Cpl. Alexei Bastidas, a platoon sergeant with the company, and a native of Logan, Utah. “Everything is happening all at once and it can seem overwhelming at times. But that’s just another reason why this training is important. Marines need to be comfortable and effective in stressful situations where they need to make live-saving decisions at a moment’s notice.”

Another point heavily stressed to the Marines during the training was the importance of judgment calls during combat. During the exercise Marines were spread thin over the rugged terrain making communication more difficult, especially with gunfire all around. Individual Marines needed to correctly follow orders issued by the squad leaders and decided what would be the best course of action when no guidance was given.

“The one thing that I make sure to constantly remind my Marines of is that they are not robots,” said Villa, a native of Sacramento, Calif. “The squad leaders will never be able to see everything that is going on the battlefield all of the time. If a Marine finds himself in a dangerous situation, he doesn’t always have time to wait for orders. Sometimes he will need to make a spilt-second decision to accomplish the mission.”

The training was long, busy and tough for the Marines, but every new skill gained and old one refined made the work well worth it. 1/1 is now set to rotate to Okinawa, Japan where they will take part in a variety of multi-national training exercises and demonstrate why the Marine Corps sets the standard for premiere fighting forces around the world.