MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- In the darkness before the morning sun crested over the desert hills, Combat Center Marines and Australian Army tankers gathered at the Commanding General's Parade Deck to commemorate Australia-New Zealand Army Corps Day, a day where the Australian Defence Force, as well as their entire nation, mourns and honors those who have gone before them.
As the Australian national colors flew overhead in the early morning hours, the formation of about 90 soldiers from Squadron C of Australia's 1st Armored Regiment read prayers and citations of bravery in battle. Wreaths adorned with a ribbon reading "Lest we forget" were placed by both Marine and Australian unit commanders at the base of the flagpole.
On ANZAC Day is especially remembered the losses sustained in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey during the First World War, according to Warrant Officer 2 Derek Simpson, the squadron sergeant major.
The squadron unit leaders read about the battle and the more than 22,000 men wounded and more 8,000 killed during the eight-month struggle. Foregoing tradition, the Australians also read of U.S. Marines distinguishing themselves in the heat of battle upon foreign soil.
Squadron C, who is based in the northern Australia city of Darwin, arrived here April 18 to begin training with 1st Tank Battalion to prepare to receive 59 M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks next year, said Simpson.
“1st Tanks is the perfect organization for us to train with,” said Maj. Scott A. Winter, commanding officer for the Australian unit. “Our regiment is comparable in size to that of 1st Tanks, with the entire Australian Army about the size of the 1st Marine Division. It has worked out quite nicely.”
"I feel extremely privileged and honored to train alongside 1st Tanks,” Winter continued. “They have mastered the tank, and share their combat experiences and the lessons learned, which are completely invaluable.”
The Australian Army is currently using the German-made Leopard AS1 tank as their primary assault tank.
“We are extremely fortunate to be receiving these [M1A1] tanks,” said Winter. “The Marines here have done a wonderful job in expediting the process for us as well as providing superior training for us with their combat-proven success.”
“I feel that victory on the battlefield does not come from how many tanks you have, but being well-trained and having an extremely capable tank,” said Winter.
“The expertise and experience gained will be shared and will be fed directly into the remainder of the regiment,” continued Winter. “We have gotten a lot of hands-on training with driving, weapon systems and crew operations from 1st Tanks.”
Around the end of April Squadron C will conduct various maneuvering and firing exercises around the Combat Center, as well as technical training and exercises until the unit departs May 21.
“Since we arrived here, there has been so much hospitality and accommodation towards us,” said Winter. “And it has not only been from the Marines here at 1st Tanks, but the entire community here at Twentynine Palms. Everyone here seems to have gone out of their way and done everything they can to make us feel comfortable. It’s been simply outstanding. [Monday] night, the base theater even showed ‘Galliopli’ in honor of ANZAC Day.”
Winter also commented on similarities between the two units and cultures, even though they are from places thousands of miles apart.
“People usually think of the differences, but what it really comes down to is if you take away a Louisiana accent or a Tasmanian accent, there are so many similarities it’s really quite amazing,” Winter said. “They were immediately integrated into life here with the Marines at Twentynine Palms and 1st Tanks.”
“I hope this is the beginning of a long and fulfilling relationship between us, and hope to reciprocate it and host 1st Tanks in Australia,” continued Winter. “This has been a very rewarding experience for us, and we hope to conduct more joint exercises in the future.”