MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The “King of Battle” recently conquered a section of the New River, proving their abilities to adapt and overcome even forces of nature to complete their mission.
The “Saipan Battalion,” 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, with the assistance of Bridge Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, exceeded both units’ expectations conducting a river crossing from Rhoades Point in the Verona Loop Training Area, to Weil Point, on the east side of the river.
"This was a great opportunity to link our training in the Verona Loop Training Area with artillery training on the east side of New River while simultaneously exposing our Marines to a different capability found in the MEF, specifically that of Bridge Company," said Lt. Col. Christopher McCarthy, the battalion’s commanding officer.
Battery I loaded the first rafts with hummers, 7-ton trucks, 155mm Howitzers and ammunition trailers before the sun crested the horizon. Once the first raft pushed off from shore, the crossing continued through the morning until the last raft was offloaded around noon.
“We were initially concerned with the ability of the howitzers and [7-ton trucks] to negotiate the wet sand of the river bank, but our operators and incidental drivers did a great job getting the vehicles safely on to the rafts, with some great direction from the Bridge Company Marines. The skill level and confidence of 8th ESB was impressive.” said Capt. C. J. Blume, the Battery I commander.
The river crossing allowed the battalion to diversify their field training while allowing Bridge Company to test their procedures for moving a large unit with numerous pieces of rolling stock. The amphibious movement delivered approximately 250 tons of motorized vehicles, including 18 hummers, 12 7-ton trucks, and four M-198 Howitzers.
“The limiting factor for this operation was the size of the rafts. The [noncommissioned officers] planned extensively to utilize the entire space of each raft and were forced to improvise these plans due to their inexperience with the battery’s equipment,” said 2nd Lt. Baleskie, 1st Platoon Commander, Bridge Company. “Their hard work and quick thinking were essential to the mission’s extraordinary success.”
The New River crossing provided Bridge Company the opportunity to plan the operation in conjunction with existing field training, exercise full command and control of the loading and movement, and use more bridge sections than normal for cross-river movements.
Marines from Bridge Company created three large rafts that could each accommodate six vehicles by connecting six sections of floating bridge together for each.
“This operation differed from our usual rafting operations, because the limiting factor was the space available on the rafts, and not the weight limitations, as it usually is when we are rafting tank,” Baleskie explained. “This allowed our drivers to gain experience in operating their bridge erection boats with rafts of six bays instead of the usual five bays.”
Each of the three large rafts were propelled by two riverboats in a coordinated glide across the water with an additional boat as a guide. From the operations order, to the final raft offloading at Weil Point, the maneuver was smooth and efficient.
The entire amphibious movement was a huge success, made possible by the flexible, capable support provide by the Marines of Bridge Company.
“The success of this operation was a direct consequence of each organization knowing their role, and performing it to exceptional standards,” he said. “The NCOs all had a strong understanding of their position of the operation and this allowed for them to adapt and overcome the challenges of crossing such a large number of diverse equipment.”
This wasn’t the end of operation but just the beginning. At this point, the operation “kicked up a notch” as the battery started its three-day, live-fire Training and Readiness Evaluation on the east side of the river. This live-fire evaluation tested the battery’s ability to consistently place steel on target, no matter the weather or time of day, from throughout the training area.
“The Marines performed well and were constant professionals throughout the course of the T&R, even in the face of constant rain and a fast paced operation tempo,” Blume said. “The battery executed both standard and non-standard artillery fire missions and the professional competency of the Marines in both the Fire Direction Center and the gun line ensured that all 320 155mm rounds fired were ‘on time, on target’.”
‘In every clime and place’ was the theme of the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines accomplishments over this training evolution which included conquering nature to complete their given mission. They proved once again the amphibious nature and never stop determination that comes with the title of Marine.
“Most importantly,” Blume explained, “with the battalion's help, we sharpened the combat skills we will take with us to Okinawa, and reinforced to the Marines that they are a combat capable firing battery , ready to answer any call for fire from maneuver.