MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- Putting steel on target is what the Marine Corps is all about, and few do it as effectively as one of the Corps' newest, but largely unknown, units.
The Camp Pendleton-based I Marine Expeditionary Force Liaison Element spent last week aboard the Combat Center practicing its battlefield mission, which includes directing artillery, mortars, Naval gunfire or fixed-wing or rotary aircraft fire onto a given target.
"There are not a lot of people in the Marine Corps who know about who we are or what we do," said Lt. Col. Marc F. Riccio, commanding officer, I MLE. "We're a small organization, but we bring a significant battlefield capability."
I MLE was activated on May 14, 1999, the same day its predecessor, 1st Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) was deactivated. The units' missions are similar, namely finding the enemy and destroying him by air, artillery, mortar or Naval gunfire, but I MLE includes assets that will come in handy on the modern, foreign battlefield.
"The difference between MLE and ANGLICO is our focus on allied and coalition forces and our use of foreign area officers and enlisted linguists," Riccio said. "These Marines give us the foreign area expertise and the cultural expertise we need to bridge the cultural and language gap of coalition forces we're supporting."
Riccio explained that having Marines who know a local culture and speak the language greatly enhances the working relationship between the Marines and any foreign government with which they may be working at a given time.
"We bring a significant warfighting capability to the coalition commander, controlling gunfire, but we also bring a language and cultural capability," Riccio said. "The local commander doesn't just see a bunch of Americans showing up. He sees people who speak his language and know his customs. He won't be as apprehensive. He'll be more willing to let us exercise our warfighting capabilities."
The tip of the I MLE spear is the fire control team, which consists of an officer serving as team leader, a noncommissioned officer team chief, a communicator, a linguist and two scout/observers. Teams operate from an observation post behind enemy lines, spotting the enemy and calling in fire from coalition forces.
"When we find the enemy, we kill 'em," said Sgt. Oran Root, FCT III chief, I MLE.
Actually, he explained, the job is somewhat more difficult than that. The FCT's job begins by locating a tactical observation post and pre-planning targets. Once in a secure position, teams spend their time searching for targets and waiting for the battle to come to them. The ongoing search for the enemy includes foot patrols, as well as constant, keen observation of the surrounding area. Once the enemy is located, the FCT leader requests fire support from the proper coalition asset, be it air, artillery, mortar or Naval gunfire.
"We move on the battlefield as the battle progresses, and continue to engage and kill the bad guys," Root said. "We do whatever it takes to put steel on target."
But it's the ability to easily communicate and operate with coalition or host-nation commanders that sets I MLE apart from typical units.
"We're serious about our relationship with NATO or coalition commanders," said 1st Lt. Patrick Eldridge, FCT III leader, I MLE. "If you're a foreign commander, not only are you going to get a highly-trained Marine Corps unit, you're also going to get personnel who know your country, your culture, your system and your tactics."
That factor, more than any other, means the Marines of I MLE will serve an essential role anywhere in the world the Marine Corps chooses to fight.