ADAZI, Latvia (June 18, 2012) – Marine mortarmen of 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment were tasked to conduct a dismounted patrol during a training exercise at Saber Strike 2012.
“There was a large open area with some marked terrain that we unfamiliar with so we wanted to investigate it,” said Sgt. Keith E. Churchill, the patrol leader for the mission. “Essentially we were there see if we could find a spot that the enemy would use as key terrain.”
The Marine Reservists trekked through trees, brush and dust. Then even made brief stops to break in broken brick buildings.
“The training was as life like as can be,” said Cpl. Daniel S. Heitger, a 25-year-old team leader from Massillion, Ohio. “I believe it gave the Marines who haven’t deployed a good idea what dismounted patrols and vehicle searches consist of and it’s going to prepare them for what’s going to happen in Afghanistan”
For Afghanistan veterans like Heitger, the varying terrain wasn’t a challenge. However it was difficult for the he and his mortarmen to move cohesively as a ground infantry unit, Churchill said.
“Overall there was some friction points because this was the first time that any of us have worked together,” said Churchill, a 25-year-old mortarman from Cleveland, Ohio. “For some of these guys, it was the first time they have operated as an 0311.”
An 0311, or Marine rifleman, is an infantryman who specializes as a ground element. Since these Marines don’t have that Military Occupational Specialty, and are used to firing off mortar systems, some adjustments had to be made, said Churchill.
“They really haven’t gotten the training or experience working as a rifle squad,” he added. “But typically when they go to Afghanistan that is how they are employed so it’s very important that they learn those skills.”
Churchill and his Marines soon found out that the area was not what they initially thought. However, the Marines were able to gather information that could be utilized in the future.
“I believe the patrol mission was successful,” said Cpl. Daniel S. Heitger, a 25-year-old team leader from Massillion, Ohio. “We gathered valuable intel from vehicle searching and personnel searching to conduct further counter-insurgency operations in the area.”
All in all, the Marine mortarmen were afforded the opportunity to go back to their riflemen roots. So when the time comes they can be ready to fight the enemy from the ground or behind a mortar system.
“It went well,” said Maire. “These guys are in to crossover and that is good because they stepped up and they listened to their leaders like Sgt. Church. They had immediate action. They didn’t have that ‘deer in the headlights’ look and they were ready to move and that is what we need to make sure the squad successful.”