CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — If thousands of Marines are off an enemy shore, it’s typically an exercise in futility for bad guys to stick around and wait for the assault.
Last year, US Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked on a training exercise, carrying out an amphibious assault on a town littered with notional insurgents — and as should be expected from a premier maritime force, the grunts dominated.
Business Insider was on hand to watch as Marines left their ship, the USS America, and headed into shore, practicing landing on and taking over an enemy beach, something that they could potentially be tasked with once the MEU deploys later this year.
Here’s what we saw.
But today there's something lurking off the coast: The USS San Diego (LPD-22), an amphibious transport packed with thousands of Marines and sailors from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The infantry grunts in the main assault are with Battalion Landing Team 1/5. Cpl. Rafael Anderson, a squad leader, has the battalion motto of 'Make Peace or Die,' on his flak jacket.
As part of a pre-deployment training scenario, the Marines' mission is to assault the beach, capture a high-value target, and pacify this town, which has been taken over by what officials say is a 'generic' opposition force.
Although most of the OPFOR is dressed like insurgents from the Middle East. Marine Pfc. Raul Galvin brought his Air Jordans to the fight.
Having an enemy to oppose the Marines is important, as Capt. Andrew Paul explained, since officials want this training exercise to be as close to the real thing as possible. 'The more realistic we can make it, the better,' he said.
Once Marines get the command to launch, they drive their amphibious assault vehicles (AAV) off the back of the ship into the water. Fortunately, these 29-ton monsters are able to float.
Meanwhile, the MEU also launches aviation assets over the town, to include Hueys and Cobra gunships from VMM-161.
With about 20 Marines in the back and a crew of 3, the AAVs lumber through the water at about 8 miles per hour.
The AAV drivers push further up the beach to the drop off point, where Marines will eventually get out and move on foot.
A couple minutes after the AAVs land, the drivers stop and the ramp is dropped. Marine infantrymen start piling out.
One of the sergeants looks on to ensure his Marines are getting out of the AAV and moving into the assault.
In the real-world, the grunts would likely be supported by the AAV's weaponry, which is typically a .50 calibre machine gun or a Mk-19 automatic grenade launcher.
'They did really well across the beach,' said Lt. Col. Richard Alvarez, the MEU's executive officer.
But landing on the beach is only step one. Now the Marines have to methodically move from house to house in the town and clear it of insurgents.
... And rocket propelled grenade launchers. The weapons aren't real, so observers on the training will pick some Marines in the assault to become notional 'casualties' that their buddies will have to care for.
The Marines call this 'military operations on urban terrain' -- MOUT -- and it's typically the toughest kind of fight. Urban fighting like this often makes casualties inevitable.
While grunts are busy doing their house-to-house fight, the Navy hits the beach with an even bigger craft: A Landing Craft Air Cushion, a huge hovercraft that can transport in larger vehicles and more Marines.
But the bad guys don't make it easy. Some use civilian women as human shields to move throughout the town.
And at one point, the grunts encounter an armed insurgent hiding behind a woman. 'Sh-- he's got a hostage,' one Marine yells. 'Put the f---ing weapon down.'
The Marines hold their fire and the insurgent makes it into the compound. But they burst in and clear it soon afterwards.
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