Training

1st Recon Trains with Norwegian KJK

HARSTAD, NORWAY — “You always hear these terms ‘brotherhood’ or ‘esprit de corps’ get tossed around and in some units it is artificial, there isn’t much depth to it,” started U.S. Marine Sgt. Joseph Ortiz, a team leader with 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division. “What I think is different about the reconnaissance community is we are such a small unit and you spend so much time with your team, your platoon and your company, you get to know people on a different level. It is actually like family with the love-hate relationships and it’s cool. You can joke around, talk [smack] and fight but on the flip side you know for sure you can count on that person on a deployment, in training, and even on a Saturday night when you need to talk. You know they are willing to drop whatever they are doing to help you. It’s never a 0900 to 1600 thing, even outside of work we spend most of our time together. The way the Norwegian Coastal Ranger Commandos (KJK) are with each other, just on a personal level and the way they conduct business, I honestly felt like I came to another reconnaissance battalion when I came here.”

No nation can confront today’s challenges alone. Over the past several decades, the trans-Atlantic strategic relationship between the U.S. and Europe has been forged and strengthened by working hand-in-hand with one another.

For approximately a month, the KJK and U.S. Marines with 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, and Marines with 1st Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Company, 2nd Marine Division have been working together during Exercise Platinum Ren at Fort Trondennes, Harstad, Norway. Platinum Ren is a theater security cooperation training evolution held to sustain mission essential tasks in the harsh operating environments while strengthening coalition partnerships.

Upon arrival, the Marines and KJK were divvied into small combined teams. Throughout the duration of training, the service members have integrated through countless evolutions like familiarizing themselves with the nations’ weapon systems during combat marksmanship drills, conducting CB-90 on-and-off drills and executing a hypothermia lab.

The teams integrated effortlessly despite their different backgrounds. In fact, they found they shared more similarities than differences.
Ortiz, commonly known as “Joe” is a Lakeside, California native, who spent his rambunctious childhood afternoons underneath the Southern California sun.

“I was the loose cannon of the family, always getting myself into trouble and being outside,” Joe reminisced. “In Southern California there was so much outdoorsy stuff to do, I was either doing that or I was jumping into my neighbor’s yard [stirring up a storm].”

Likewise, Joe’s counterpart “Tail” also grew up in a small town, on a petit island in the southwest region of Norway. The small island was divided into two towns and had a population of approximately 16,000 people.

“I was mostly outside getting into a heap load of trouble,” said Tail with chagrin. “The rest of my family is really quiet too, they don’t get into trouble or party and I was the complete opposite of all of that. They had no clue how to comprehend me.”

As the boys turned into men, they found the call to arms too loud to deny.

Tail joined the Norwegian service first in 2010, as a Conscript. Conscription is a form of mandatory military service for men and woman.

“When I showed up for my Conscript year I hated it,” laughed Tail. “I was in a signal battalion and I spent my days setting up antennas and wires, and I hate that stuff, I really do.”

After Tail completed his Conscription, he was put in charge of other Conscripts for a patrol. That changed everything.

In 2010 and 2011, Norway was deep in Afghanistan and their fighting had just begun, their troops were all deployed. It was really popular to watch the Brothers in Arms shows that document their trials. Despite Tail’s hard feelings toward his Conscription, he wanted to help.

“I really didn’t think I would continue to be a soldier after that initial year but I got in contact with one guy from the professional Army,” said Tail, rubbing his callused hands together as he talked. “There were 2,000 applicants for 50 positions, I didn’t even apply or put an application in but the man that I had called, he put in a good word for me. I went. It was for this six week boot camp, and they would only bring 50 that they had chosen for a position. Since I was from signal battalion and there was a similar position to what I was doing as a Conscript, I automatically got it.”

Tail consequently spent two years in the Norwegian Army, commonly called the Professional Army. During the end of his second year, the Norwegian Army held an educational brief on the devastation that shook the KJK personnel in Afghanistan.

“I hadn’t even heard of the KJK,” said Tail. “I listened to them like ‘damn those are the warriors.’ So I sent in an application for the KJK in 2013. From there it was a full year of selection and another year of education. Out of the 450 who originally were accepted, after two years we ended up with seven guys who made it.”

Meanwhile, Joe enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2012.

“Like he said Afghanistan was starting up on America’s side,” said Joe. “I wanted to fight for my country, to be the first to fight. I was at one of the Poolee meetings and there was this reconnaissance pamphlet with this guy [who] had face paint on, his gun in his hand and he looked so cool. I was like ‘dude that seems pretty [awesome], who are those guys?’ And I took the pamphlet. I was a 17-year-old kid who didn’t understand most of it but I saw things like ‘deep behind enemy lines’, ‘direct action’ and pictures of these guys parachuting and scuba diving. All of that fun stuff. I figured I was kind of an adrenaline junkie and that checked that box. The way I perceived it, reconnaissance would get me as close to the fight as the Marine Corps could and so I was like ‘yeah sign me up.’”

Seven years later, Joe is now training alongside Tail in Harstad, Norway.

Throughout the years, it has been proven that partnerships are built upon shared values, experiences and visions. Throughout Exercise Platinum Ren, Tail and Joe’s brotherhood was forged and they found many shared morals and values.

As the preparation phase ended, the planning for the final mission became more critical. The teams poured over maps and mission plans deciding team tactics and team values. As Tail expressed the importance of team’s flexibility, Joe nodded. “Semper Gumby,” which loosely translates to always flexible, is commonly proclaimed an unofficial motto for the Marine Corps. Both expressed the importance of taking pride in one’s work, trust in the team and the importance of each man during a mission.

“The individual needs to be an asset not a liability,” started Joe.

“We know there’s not a lot of pretty sides to this life like sharing a sleeping bag with another man for 10 days or looking at a target that isn’t moving that much,” continued Tail. “All of the training we have leads us to be the unit that is going to be able to do that job. You do need to have a certain sense of humor when hardships like that strike. The way you deal with that brings you together.”

“We have to put ourselves aside and realize that we’re doing this because it’s helping people, saving lives and keeping bad people from doing bad things,” summarized Joe. “No matter how miserable you might be in the moment, keep putting things in perspective. It’s what we volunteered for. It’s why we are here.”

In preparation for future demanding operations during Exercise Platinum Ren, the teams conducted an evening patrol submitting themselves to the unforgiving conditions of the harsh Artic climate and mountainous terrain. If nothing else, the “camping trip” as they called it, strengthened the brotherhood the men have built. The KJK and Marines are definitely brothers in arms.

Starting in January 2017, the Marine Corps began a rotation presence in Norway in order to enhance Marine Corps readiness, conduct cold-weather training and operations and enhance the overall interoperability with U.S. allies and partners. Exercises like Platinum Ren continue the tradition of deploying Marines to Norway to train with their NATO Ally.

“These are very austere conditions and I think it will be very valuable to the Marine Corps as a whole so we can continue to perfect standard operating procedures across the board,” said Joe. “I think it is extremely valuable getting outside of our main bases and having to think outside the box. It is no longer ‘what do I need to do to complete the mission’ but ‘what do I need to do to survive.’”

“What we have found is that it doesn’t matter how many people you can get here, if they cannot deal with the weather, they will die,” agreed Tail. “To experience the cold, you cannot just read that in a book. You have to feel it. Everything takes twice as long when you are that cold. Tying your shoes, putting on clothes, everything is double the amount of time. What you really want is to reduce the amount of time you are adding on.”

As their final mission arises, the Marines and KJK prepare mentally and physically to ensure that they are the most ready and lethal combined force.

When asked how they expected their final mission to go, they both replied simultaneously with, “perfect.”

ShadowSpear

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