MIDDLE EAST -- Marines and sailors from Companies E and G, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, wrapped up seven days of bilateral training, here, May 28.
The exercise marked the fourth time during the MEU's current deployment that the battalion has trained alongside a foreign force, and the second such endeavor conducted with a military from this region.
During the exercise the companies partnered up with similar units from the regional force to carry out a training schedule that focused on enhancing their squad, platoon and company-level attacks.
As the training got underway, the companies and their Middle Eastern counterparts spent a day rehearsing tactics unique to their designations as the MEU's helicopter and motorized raid forces.
"Any time you can train on your primary insertion platform, it's beneficial to your Marines," said Capt. Tim S. Brady, Jr., commanding officer of Co. E and a Fairfax, Va., native.
The initial training had the added benefit of jump-starting friendly working relations between the two nations' forces that would last through the rest of the exercise.
"It took our Marines and the (foreign troops) all of about 30 seconds to start laughing and joking together in the way that all infantrymen do," said Brady.
The rest of the training was structured around incremental, live-fire unit attacks, progressing from squad-sized actions to assaults involving entire companies.
These evolutions were beneficial to the companies in that they got the Marines back to doing the things they do best, said 1st Lt. James J. Wissmann, a platoon commander from Co. G and a Fairfax, Va., native.
"This was a great refresher on basic infantry skills," he stated. "It was all about maintaining the combat mindset, because while we may be five months into this deployment, we still need to be ready for whatever may come our way."
The ramp-up approach to the unit attacks helped build leadership skills within the companies as well.
"It was a good opportunity to lead a unit in an attack," said Sgt. Steve T. Dunn, a squad leader from Co. G and a St. Louis native. "Working together like we did here is great for building the camaraderie and small-unit unit cohesion you need to have in an infantry unit."
These small-unit gains are pivotal in preparing the units for possible future actions in today's conflicts, said Wissman.
"The fight on the battlefields of (the Global War on Terrorism) is geared towards the squad level, so anytime you get a rifle unit out to train together its good," he explained.
Sharpening their battle skills alongside the Middle Eastern troops provided benefits to the Marines that reached beyond combat readiness, said Brady.
"Its good for our Marines to cultivate relationships with foreign militaries," he observed. "It's good for them to understand that (other nations' forces) are made up of people doing their jobs, just like we are."
The troops took advantage of the wide-open, expansive ranges here to get the most from their training.
"A lot of the ranges we train on back in the (United States) are more limiting because they are smaller in size," said Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Hornibrook, a rifleman from Co. G and a Detroit native. "The stuff we got to do here was different because it was larger than the squad-level stuff we typically work with."
The open terrain enabled the troops to unleash massive, company- sized attacks as the exercise neared completion.
"Launching big attacks like we did is an unbelievable experience," said Wissmann. "It's awesome to break out all of our assets and see the kind of firepower we bring to the table in action."
After honing their skills on the practice ranges, the Marines and their counterparts from the regional military participated in a massive, final demonstration that implemented everything they had covered in the course of the exercise.
The demonstration included motorized and helicopter-borne assaults, artillery and mortar strikes and close-air support from both nations' militaries.
"The final exercise was a complete success," said Brady. "It demonstrated the level of coordination and planning we had achieved during our training, and our ability to execute combined operations."
With the training complete, the Marines and Middle Eastern troops gathered to celebrate their achievements and camaraderie with a warrior's night that featured authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. Following the meal, many of the troops gathered to exchange gifts and farewells.
"It's always good to go somewhere you've never been, and take something away from the experience," said Lance Cpl. Samuel A. Fonseca, a rifleman from Co. E and a Boston native.
"We all have something to learn from each other," agreed Brady.
The 26th MEU is currently in the fifth month of a routine, scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6 as the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group.
In addition to BLT 2/2, the MEU is composed of its Command Element; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion 26.
For more on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.