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Corporal Benjamin Stoflet, a field radio operator, assigned to Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, watches for simulated enemy contacts during phase three of Mountain Warfare Training Exercise 5-15 aboard Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Sept. 21, 2015. Headquarters Battalion acted as the opposing force against 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division for the field training exercise to give the Marines a realistic look at fighting in a mountainous terrain. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Will Perkins/Released)

Photo by Cpl. William Perkins

Bridgeport: Phase 3 Mountain Exercise

20 Sep 2015 | Cpl. William Perkins 1st Marine Division

Marines and Sailors assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, conducted a culminating field training exercise during phase three of Mountain Warfare Training Exercise aboard Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California, Sept. 19-23, 2015.

The battalion utilized the four-day event to strengthen their abilities to move and engage targets while simultaneity retaining the necessary mountain warfare skills such as climbing and survival learned during phases one and two.

In addition to testing the Marines’ and Sailors’ skills, the event gave them a unique opportunity to work alongside members of the U.S. Army’s Operational Detachment Alpha to learn small unit tactics and then act as an opposing force against 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, which was also participating in the training.

“We started off learning the essential drills we needed to know for the operations that we were going to conduct during the FEX,” said Lance Cpl. John Whitlock, an intelligence specialist assigned to Headquarters Company, HQ Bn., 1st Mar. Div.

Before moving into the field and beginning the operations, the Marines spent a day with ODA to cover everything from small unit movement during patrols to conducting leader’s reconnaissance, added the Atlanta, Georgia native.

“The training that ODA gave us was absolutely essential,” Whitlock stated. “Especially setting up the patrol bases and preparing ambushes.”

Due to having small numbers, the Marines were forced to use unconventional war fighting tactics such as setting hasty ambushes and attacking with small raid forces to harass 1/6 while they attempted to complete their mission.

“Outnumbered as drastically as we were, we felt like we were being hunted,” Whitlock said. “It was interesting acting as the opposing force because I’m used to supporting the conventional side in a real operation.”

The FEX was a 96-hour exercise that took its toll on the Marines who were running the patrols with minimal sleep.

“Everybody was getting tired, especially near the end,” Whitlock added. “The operational tempo was set really high so it made it interesting but also challenging for everybody.”

The Marines were placed under a physical strain due to the back to back hours of patrols and standing watch over the patrol base. In turn, this led to a mental challenge the Marines were required to surpass with strong non-commissioned officer leadership and pure commitment.

“For every patrol we had some mission to harass 1/6,” Whitlock said. “Their main goal was to reach a landing zone and ours was to basically delay them.”

The Marines not only got a taste of simulated combat but an idea of a different side of the Marine Corps.

“One of my favorite parts was working alongside the Army special forces because we learned a lot from them,” Whitlock said. “Now we know how to head into an objective, hit our target and break contact. It was a unique experience for me.”

The Marines had minimal time to work with each other and prepare before they were sent into the mountains after 1/6.

“It was a bit rocky at first,” Whitlock said. “But by the end, everybody was working really well together and flowed as a unit.”

By the time the Marines came off the mountain for the final time to conclude the Mountain Warfare Training Exercise 5-15, they had a greater sense of how to navigate through the mountains, work cohesively as a small unit and had built up a skill set that could be used to bolster the battalion’s operational capabilities.

1st Marine Division