CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Late Thursday night as most of the Marines aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard got ready to hit the rack, seven Force Reconnaissance Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit slipped into the water beginning a 1,500-meter swim to the shore.
Their movement began the early stages of the short-range helicopter raid, one of many missions performed during the Composite Training Unit Exercise, 15th MEU’s second at-sea training period.
In the meantime, ten more Marines were busy cross-decking from USS Bonhomme Richard to USS Duluth in a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat, or RHIB. Once aboard ship, the warriors joined up with the rest of the raid force Marines of Battalion Landing Team 1/1’s, Bravo Co.
Their mission was to enter a small town and capture or kill all Anti-Coalition Forces played by Marines from Camp Pendleton, and deny them access to training facilities.
Later that night, the reconnaissance Marines who swam to the beach were picked up by a local sheik and taken about three kilometers of the objective. The Marines spent the rest of the night maneuvering themselves into a surveillance position above the enemy camp to gather intelligence for the raid force.
All Friday morning, while the rest of Bravo Co. was gearing up for the flight to shore, Force Recon continued relaying the information back to the ship where planners used it to prepare for the hit. “Recon’s job is vital to the mission because they give us ‘eyes on the target,’” according to Sgt. Howard C. Wright, the communications chief for Force Recon. “The human perspective of the target helps to better plan the raid before anyone moves in.”
With the last brief complete, helicopters began taking Marines from the USS Duluth ashore in three different waves. After the third wave of helicopters touched down on Camp Pendleton, the Marines exited and formed a security perimeter in the landing zone.
Immediately, Cpl. Chris J. Neves Jr., the radio operator, established satellite communications with the ship to let them know the force was on the ground. While Neves talked to the ship, the remainder of the raid force established internal communications. With all comm established, the Marines tightened up their gear and started their all night 12-kilometer tactical movement to the objective.
The sun was setting quickly and there was no moonlight to illuminate the way, so Marines utilized night vision goggles or relied on their night sight to maneuver their way through the challenging terrain.
Moving at less than one mile-per-hour, the raid force pushed towards the objective throughout the evening. They arrived at the objective early Saturday morning, poised to start the hit immediately after first sunlight, but not before linking up with Recon for any changes to the situation.
After all final changes were briefed, Force Recon escorted the raid force to the enemy camp. With support by fire positions established on a hill over looking the site and a Recon sniper in position, Bravo Co. was ready to make their move.
At 5:50 a.m., Cpl. Neves radioed back to the ship that the raid force had begun the attack. “Through our surveillance, we already identified the high value target and the building where all the weapons were located,” said Staff Sgt. James Stare, a team leader for Force Recon.
Bravo Co. hit hard and fast clearing out the first building where they established a position for casualties and prisoners to be handled. They quickly swept through the rest of the town taking down all the enemy personnel.
During the raid, the Marines used their Explosive Ordinance Disposal technicians to examine an Improvised Explosive Device they found. Once EOD found the IED to be harmless, the Marines continued to push through the town. Once the town was cleared, the raid force was ready to push back.
Bravo Co. pushed back to a rally point with Force Recon right behind them, where a message was sent that the mission had been accomplished.
Stare said there were some close calls and a couple of communication snags, but the Marines overcame them to complete the mission. “We were pretty close to some passing vehicles but were never spotted. We correctly located the building with the high value target and helped the raid force do their job.”
“I think the raid was a good experience and good training,” said Neves who recently completed a five-month deployment with 9th Communications Battalion in 2003. “We train for the worst and hope for the best.”
Although the mission was a success, Stare believes that more training definitely wouldn’t hurt. Part of Recon’s job was to send information and photos back to the ship. “We did our job successfully, but next time I hope to get larger pictures and send our information back in a quicker time frame.”
The raid was performed during the 15th MEU’s second at-sea period, in preparation for a regularly-scheduled six-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf and Western Pacific later this year.