ANCON, Peru -- In the first of a series of field exercises, Marines of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 24 and Peruvian Marines of Batallon Infanteria de Marina 1 arrived motivated and ready to conduct various live fire drills in the mountainous, desert terrain of the Quebrada Inocente training area, June 19.
This training event kicked off the Peruvian field portion of Partnership of the Americas 2007, an annual exercise which promotes regional stability and enhances relationships among nations of the Western Hemisphere. Although Marine mortar sections train regularly with live rounds, here they had what seemed like an endless supply, more than most had ever seen at one time. For many, this was a chance to do the type of training which spurred them to join the Marine Corps in the first place.
“This training cycle was like none other that I've experienced. I've never fired so many rounds in my life!” said Lance Cpl. Philip T. Brown, an ammunition technician from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, in Waukegan, Ill. “Nothing can come close to the power of 30 high explosive rounds going off at one time.”
“We covered that hill with shrapnel,” continued Brown, a native of Rochester, Minn. “The best part was watching the illumination rounds bouncing off the rock, and training with the Peruvians was also a highlight. I had the time of my life already.”
It is clear that these Marines love their job, and they were thankful for the chance to practice their skills in a more realistic environment. The excitement was contagious, and as their Peruvian counterparts shared in the action, looks of joy could be seen on their faces. Once the Marines of each nation began opening up to one another, they realized they shared even more than their joy of exploding targets with live ordnance.
“The training was realistic, and Marines love realistic training,” said Sgt. Baldo Bello, a mortar section leader from Chicago with Weapons Co., 2/24. “Even more importantly, as Marines, we often fall into the idea that we are the best, that no others do it as well as we do, and that we have the only right way. Training hand in hand with these guys totally opened my eyes to how different and alike we are.”
“The Spanish-speaking Marines went out of their way to make sure the Peruvian Marines understood our mortar systems and why we do things the way we do, and everyone learned something,” added Bello.
The Peruvian Marine mortarmen fire an average of approximately two rounds per year for training. They explained that until they are in combat, they have virtually no way of actually knowing what a real-life mission is like. This was the first chance that many had to see how things would go in a situation where they were required to fire over a longer period of time.
The Marines from Peru were eager to learn, however, and by the time the mission was over, they had learned a lot. The Marines of SPMAGTF 24 had learned some things about their Peruvian counterparts as well, and felt they were better men for it.
“I was impressed with the Peruvians' knowledge of the mortar system, especially after they explained to us how they only get one chance a year to fire live rounds,” said Sgt. Timothy Gena of Palos Hills, Ill. “They were very eager and helpful on the gun line.”
“I'm really happy to have had the chance to train with them, as they were all very easy to get along with,” added Gena, a mortar section leader from Weapons Co., 2/24. “The mission went very well.”
As the day turned into night, illumination rounds were fired into the desert sky. Across the hills could be seen an explosive display of light as Marines fired the M252 81mm mortars off in a rapid succession of blasts, one right after another. It is said that the light from one of the illumination rounds is equal to that of 400 candles, something hard to believe until you witness it.
For the Peruvians, who never fire at night, this was even more exceptional – something they had never seen before. Altogether, it was a day and night that everyone who played a part in will remember for a long time.