USS ESSEX, At sea --
Reconnaissance Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit wake early for a busy day of mission preparation and execution. With no time to waste, they begin their morning routine and start prepping gear. Everything, from grabbing ammo, chow and water, getting maps ready and laying out routes, all needs to get done before the mission.
Just hours after a warning order is dropped, the Marines may need to be ready to roll out the door and execute whichever type of mission they are tasked with. In those hours, they ensure everyone who is a part of the mission knows their role and where they need to be.
They hold briefs and as many rehearsals as they can until it’s time to load up. As they do their final gear inspections and communication checks, they take inventory on themselves to make sure they are prepared for the upcoming operation.
“Everyone gets nervous, you’re going into an unknown,” said Sgt. Sean Bernstein, an assistant team leader with the 15th MEU’s Maritime Raid Force. “You are a link in a chain and if you’re the weak link, you’re going to make the chain fall apart. It doesn’t matter how brave or courageous you may think you are, everyone should have some degree of nervousness in respect for the mission and what it’s going to require of you. You can only hope and train to be able to live up to that task.”
Bernstein explained this type of nervousness is mitigated throughout the workups the Marines go through prior to the MEU.
The Force Reconnaissance Detachment has been preparing for the MEU for about two years, beginning with a school phase where the Marines learn different insert capabilities. Typically, a reconnaissance platoon will include a freefall team, mobility team and a dive team. Once everyone has their capabilities, they bring the teams together to work as a platoon.
“When the teams are put together as a platoon, those separate capabilities are sort of put on the back burner.” Bernstein said. “You’re not going to spend a war just inserting, that’s only half the battle. We do live-fire maneuvers, incorporate close-air support with ground maneuver and pull from the experiences of the platoon to try to create this symbiotic relationship between the different disciplines and the different experiences.”
Once Bravo Company, Force Reconnaissance Detachment composited with the MEU, they had to tackle various maneuvers, such as visit, board, search and seizure and gas-oil platform missions, limited-scale precision raids, and day and night inserting capabilities from the sky, sea and land.
“We started with [interoperability training] and [realistic urban training],” Bernstein said. “Those are to incorporate the, hopefully, polished reconnaissance [company] with the rest of the MEU. They need to learn how to incorporate us and we need to learn how to help them. It’s not about us, it’s about the mission. So if we can enhance the mission or even increase the mission capability, then we’re going to be employed.”
They go through a grading scale that progresses to their final at-sea period, Certification Exercise, or CERTEX, to see what they are capable of doing.
“That all starts with taking your insert capabilities, refining them to polished team tactics, applying those to a cohesive platoon and being able to seamlessly transition with either the [Battalion Landing Team’s] requirements or the MRF requirements in any type of scenario,” Bernstein said. “There’s a wide scale of abilities that we have to make applicable to a platoon’s capability rather than just having a bunch of guys with a bunch of skills.”
Training for every type of environment, insert and mission, gives the Marines a wide range of skills and takes them out of the linear progression of how a mission should go.
“That fosters the initiative-based tactics that we have been preached,” Bernstein said. “It’s that out-of-the box thinking that allows a six-man team to be more effective than a 12-man unit with limited experience with other types of warfare. The rare case with our platoon and our company is that we have been able to be proficient in everything that we’ve been tasked to do. It’s the nature of the wide set of skills; we have to be thinkers, we have to be problem solvers.”
The teams within the MRF have been able to refine these skills over the workup and become more proficient and confident in their work. Bernstein said working with each other for so long builds a bond within the team that doesn’t compare to a typical work relationship.
“It comes to the point where when you’re used to seeing the same face, hearing the same voice day in and day out, through your weekends, multiple weeks at a time, or hearing them over the radio ... that relation supersedes anything that you could imagine in a normal work environment,” Bernstein said.
This relationship is apparent during operations. Once they depart for the mission, their focus immediately shifts away from the individual and towards the team and mission.
“When you’re so used to giving up your own personal comforts for that team or that mission accomplishment, [being] with that group of guys it’s almost symbiotic at that point,” Bernstein said. “The phrase ‘it’s not about yourself anymore’ becomes real; it’s not just something you say. It’s something that you actually feel, whether conscious or unconscious, you have this degree of importance to your brother.”
The Maritime Raid Force’s hard work will pay off when they depart on their upcoming deployment. As they continue to train the teams, platoons, and company as a whole will keep improving and progressing into a stronger force. Their out-of-the-box thinking and variety of skills will assist them during anything they may encounter.