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Sgt. Steven King, Marines Special Operations Command PAO
MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Cailf. – 08.24.2009
In 218 B.C., during the second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, the great Carthaginian, General Hannibal, did what many Romans thought to be impossible – he invaded northern Italy by marching his army over the Pyrenees and the Alps mountain ranges. Not only did he have to fight his way through various tribes using clever mountain tactics, he also had to combat the harsh mountainous elements, the elevation, logistical problems, and the terrain. After engaging in three strenuous weeks of training at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif. during Exercise White Mountain the operators of 3d Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command may have a new appreciation for the challenges that Hannibal faced in the mountains.
"One thing is for sure, it wasn't a stroll though the park," said Cpl. Victor Escobar, watch officer, about the mountainous terrain. "It took us a few days to completely get used to the thinner air. Sports athletes who train in high altitude environments don't have to do so with thirty pounds of gear on, but combat athletes like us do."
This training was part of a three-week exercise where the operators sharpened their skills in an environment containing elevations up to 7,500 feet above sea level. Shooting, river crossing, convoy operations, reconnaissance, patrolling, direct action hits and Close Quarters Battle were all practiced on a terrain different from the flat, swampy woods that many operators were accustomed to in North Carolina.
"Just being out here is training in and of itself," said Escobar. "We don't have mountains like this back home in which we can apply our skills in a place so close in resemblance to certain parts of Africa or Afghanistan."
The operators also had the opportunity to train with Marines from 3d Battalion 1st Marines and Navy SEALs. The three units worked together to create a training evolution that gave each participant a realistic feel for the interoperability of special and conventional forces.
"It was great working with 3/1 and the SEALs," said Sgt. Hunter Lobertini, joint fires observer. "They got to see how we do business and vice-versa. Even though we all have different ways of doing things, we're all on the same side, fighting the same enemy and facing the same challenges."
Though the Marines and Sailors of MARSOC didn't have to fight native tribes and mountain rock, or feed elephants and horses the way Hannibal's army did, their experience in the mountains of MWTC still held great value.
"All in all I feel we've learned a lot from this training evolution," said Escobar. "The feedback and ideas that were compiled by the team members are sure to serve us well when the time comes for us to operate in an environment similar to this one."
Though elephants have been replaced with motorized vehicles for mobility, and the bow and arrow has been replaced by the M4 Carbine assault rifle, the Marines and sailors of 3d MSOB learned that the challenges of mountain warfare remain constant, despite the advances in technology. However, through exercises such as these, the operators of MARSOC will be better prepared to face those challenges and overcome them.