BRIDGEPORT, CA – Marines and Sailors with a company from 2d Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command continued their Deployment for Training (DFT) program by traveling to the Mountain Warfare Training Center at Bridgeport, Calif., to conduct mountain environment training, mountain patrolling, land navigation and mule packing.
The first days of training at the MWTC were devoted to classes. MWTC instructors taught the company many important lessons that would be vital to their success during not only the practical application exercises in the course, but also in their eventual combat deployment. Classes included mountain safety, health and weather awareness, as well as cold-weather patrolling, route planning, mountain casualty evacuation and bivouac routines. Designated personnel split off and received separate classes on mountain communications and operation of the small unit support vehicles (SUSV).
After two days of classes and preparation, members of the company split into groups, with personnel gathering in their Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOTs) and the headquarters group forming their own team. Group leaders sat down with their maps and navigation tools and plotted routes they would take the following day. The routes were customized for each group based on the type of terrain and route length. The MSOTs plotted longer and more difficult routes because of their increased proficiency with land navigation.
Groups departed in the morning and moved into the surrounding mountainous terrain. During the route they received instruction on map-reading techniques and methods of finding their position using known points and landmarks. MSOTs took routes that led them higher than 10,000 feet above sea level.
The next day, Marines and Sailors participated in a mule packing class with the MWTC Pack Outfit. Students learned basic mule health and safety rules prior to cleaning and prepping the mules for packing classes.
“These mules are a lot healthier and generally larger than the mules they may find in Afghanistan,” said Sgt. Chad Giles, an instructor with the MWTC Pack Outfit. “The mules we use receive regular veterinary care and are ideal for traveling with heavy loads through rough terrain.”
Instructors set up different teaching stations and rotated the students between them. Box-hitching, barrel-hitching and various other packing techniques were taught at the stations. Each technique provided for the type of equipment being loaded and how they would sit securely and comfortably on the mule’s back.
“Mules can be stubborn and feisty animals,” said Giles. “But they can climb just about anywhere the Marines can, and they can do it carrying a lot more weight.”
Once the mules were packed up and the Marines and Sailors had received their preliminary classes, instructors took them for a hike. This gave students the chance to see how the mules moved with a combat load. Students also learned the challenges of taking care of them when bivouacking on long hikes. According to course instructors, mules require a certain amount of maintenance and care in order to work diligently for their Marine or Sailor.
After the courses and the hikes were over, the Marines and Sailors of the company had an improved understanding of how to tackle the high elevations and rough, cold terrain of the mountains. It will be a valuable skill to have should they deploy to the similarly difficult terrain in Afghanistan.