Marines in Good Spirits While Training in Australia

Sept. 3, 2013:

As I write this, I am 300 miles deep into the Australian outback. I’m hot, dirty, smelly, sticky, covered in dust, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

1stSgt Arturo Blanco, company first sergeant for Company G., Battalion Landing Team, 2d Battalion, Fourth Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, and native of Buena Park, Calif., uses an improvised bench press with 40-pound water jugs at Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland, Australia, July 22, 2013. 
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt Jonathan Wright.)

The Marines around me are in the same state of dress and from their laughter and good-natured teasing, I can say with confidence that they wouldn’t want it any other way either.

Since June, the Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit have been deployed in support of the regularly scheduled Fall Patrol. Despite the challenges of a deployment – time away from family and friends, long hours with few days off – the general consensus is that this deployment is something that we will remember for the rest of our lives, even if we have to tolerate some discomfort along the way.

While on ship, we tolerate long lines for chow, living in small spaces with 3,000 of our “closest” friends, and the days that turn into weeks where we may not see the sun or breathe non-recycled air. We tolerate a lack of Internet and phone access, long lines at the store stocked with limited supplies and for haircuts by our peers. We also tolerate the many bells, whistles, announcements, clinks, clanks, whumps, bumps and bangs of a massive amphibious warship in constant motion.

LCpl David Allen, rifleman, Fox Company, 2d Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, comforts his wife and baby girl before preparing to leave for his deployment to Darwin, Australia, April 2, 2013. The Company will work closely with their Australian allies on world-class ranges to increase their training capabilities.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl Vanessa American Horse.)

We have countless meetings – daily update briefs, individual section or unit meetings, warning orders, crises action team and battle staff meetings and confirmation briefs. We have countless drills – man overboard drills, abandon ship drills, marksmanship drills, general quarters drills, rehearsal of concept drills, firefighting and engineering casualty drills and several troop call-away drills with names like “sparrow-hawk,” “bald eagle,” “nightingale” and “TRAP” (tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel).

There’s also a certain ebb and flow of daily life on ship. For some, it fits in their schedule to go to chow early, for others, waiting until 10 minutes before chow closes ensures less time spent in line. There are also “Blue” hours and “Green” hours for the gym as well as flight operations for Marines to plan their daily schedule around. There’s fun to be had on Bingo night, American Idol night, Texas Hold ‘Em night, karaoke night, movie night, wings and ice cream night and board game night. And yet on other occasions, there are “steel beach” picnics, swim calls, bench press competitions and 5k fun runs.

Then there’s the typical field life to contend with once the Marines go ashore for the various training exercises. Sleeping in tents or under the stars, eating MREs, working in makeshift workspaces, and recently, enduring the Australian elements. Here at the Bradshaw Field Training Area in the Northern Territory, we’ve been briefed to stay out of the water (because of saltwater and freshwater crocodiles, Tiger sharks, and jelly fish), to drive slowly on the roadways (because of cows, kangaroos, wild dogs and dingoes crossing the roads) and to avoid just about everything else in the training area (giant pythons, poisonous spiders, water buffaloes, insects…and the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world are all here).

Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare to collect simulated enemy casualties and weapons during a mechanized raid at Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland, Australia, July 26, 2013. The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force of readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.
(U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt Sheila deVera.)

Taken together – the things we tolerate, the things we endure and the things we avoid – you would think our morale is low and we’d be a miserable lot. It is quite the opposite. Marines take pride in operating in the most austere conditions because they can always say they accomplished the mission and had it the worse than anyone else. Don’t just take my word for it; our history reads like an encyclopedia of examples. From the battle of Belleau Wood, to the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific, to the frozen Chosin Reservoir, to the sweltering jungles of Vietnam, to the blustery sands of Iraq and the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan, Marines have always done more with less.

The Marines of the 31st MEU know the importance of their mission and take pride in their purpose. They recently participated in Talisman Saber 13, one of the largest exercises in the Pacific, conducted certification exercises in Queensland and volunteered their time to help the local communities during port visits in Brisbane, Sydney and Darwin. Presently, we are participating in Exercise Koolendong 13, a bilateral exercise with the Australian Defense Force where the 31st MEU is once again demonstrating why it is the force of choice in the Asia-Pacific region. And the best part of all? We’re getting paid to do this.