Every summer, more than 5,000 reserve Marines travel from across the United States to take part in an Integrated Training Exercise in 29 Palms, California. The exercise is the largest U.S. Marine Corps Reserve exercise of the year and a critical way in which the Reserve Component is able to maintain a cadre of Marines and units ready to deploy at any time.
Each year, two infantry battalions, supported by artillery, combat logistics and multiple aviation capabilities; and an assortment of other forces become the “ready bench,” first to augment and reinforce Active Component forces in support of a contingency response or as part of a theater security cooperation mission.
The Marine Corps Reserve “Force Generation Model” is a five-year training and readiness cycle meant to build experience and competency in the Reserve Corps. During year four of the cycle, ITX certifies unit readiness for use on the ready bench for the next year. This plan ensures a total of more than 3,000 Reserve Marines and Sailors are prepared to augment and reinforce Active Component Forces.
This year, from June 8 to July 7, 2017 Marines from over 40 units came together for ITX 4-17 as MAGTF-23, so named because 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, fulfilled the command element role.
The units that participated in ITX 4-17 – 2nd Bn. 24th Marines and 2nd Bn. 25th Marines, supported by 5th Bn., 14th Marine Artillery Regiment, Combat Logistics Battalion 453, CLB- 45, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 772, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772 and a host of supporting units – will now comprise the Reserve Component’s ready bench for the duration of fiscal year 18.
ITX is a service level training event for both the Active and Reserve Components which aims to prepare units for combat, under the most realistic conditions possible. While the primary focus is training infantry units at the battalion and squadron level and below; the secondary focus is on training as a fully operational Marine Air-Ground Task Force. MAGTFs are task organizations consisting of ground, aviation, combat service support, and command elements. This type of task organization is flexible and structured to accomplish a wide range of missions. It is also completely unique to the Marine Corps. These focuses along with friction that comes with mimicking real-world operations during the hottest time of the year on the ranges of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, California, make ITX 4-17 an effective measure of readiness.
Besides being the Marine Corps Reserve’s largest annual exercise, ITX 4-17 is relevant to the total force because it allows unit commanders the opportunity to assess participants against a predetermined set of standard capabilities.
ITX 4-17 tests participating units, including 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment and 2nd Bn., 24th Marines, against the same training and readiness standards of the Active Component during the four other ITXs held each year. The Marine Corps Reserve is an operational force that augments, reinforces and supports the Active Component every day. The Force Generation Model ensures consistent integration of Reserve units, detachments, and individuals into Service, Joint and Multi-lateral exercises, thereby increasing interoperability over the plan’s five-year cycle. Reserve Marines are very much a part of the current fight with units deployed worldwide in every geographic combatant command.
The Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force- Southern Command, for example, is an annual theater security cooperation rotation composed almost entirely of Marine Corps Reserve units. The MAGTF, based out of Honduras, conducts theater security cooperation missions throughout Central and South America. They also serve as a crisis response force in the area. Last October, the unit was the first to respond and provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the category-four storm that struck Haiti.
When ITX was first introduced in 2012, it had a construct of two infantry battalions concurrently executing mirror-imaged training schedules like its predecessor, exercise Enhanced Mojave Viper, a combined arms exercise at the battalion level which corresponded with the Marine Corps’ primary obligation in Afghanistan.
“Combat elements trained largely independently and there was no exercise force MAGTF command element,” said Daniel Newell, a training specialist with Tactical Training Exercise Control Group.
Over the past several years, ITX has been modified to accommodate a full MAGTF concept with the infantry regimental headquarters taking its place as MAGTF command element changing the schedule to one in which infantry battalions execute in turn, allowing the ACE and LCE to support combined-arms training events.
With only two weeks to prove the readiness of participating infantry battalions, a unified MAGTF is critical for a Reserve ITX. An ITX for the active component is twice as long, giving participants a full month to acclimatize to the environment and complete live-fire events at the platoon, company and battalion level.
For the first time this year, the Reserve ITX included a four-day battalion level final exercise that tested the command and control elements of the infantry battalions. The four-day final exercise consisted of a mobile assault course, an air assault course, and battalion level offense and defense.
“The big objective was creating the battalion level final exercise to challenge battalion command and control,” said Lt. Col. Urbano Cruz, regimental operations officer for 23rd Marines, “Normally reserve units don’t do battalion level operations during their annual training so it offers a new aspect.”
The mechanized assault course and the air assault course teach infantry battalions how to use the full capabilities of tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, indirect and direct fires, and other air and ground assets.
“As the ACE, I’m here to support those mission essential tasks—call for fire and combined arms coordination to help the battalion achieve its readiness rate,” said Col. John Kelleher, senior reserve advisor for Marine Aircraft Group-49 and the ACE commander for this year’s ITX. “What makes ITX 4-17 unique is that per the commander of Marine Forces Reserve, we have added one more level of this exercise to create a first of its kind final exercise, for a reserve battalion."
During all four days of the 2nd Bn., 25th Marines, final battalion exercise, temperatures reached at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures were even higher on the flight line and on the sandy berms of range 400 and 410A, where the temperature on the ground was recorded at 150 degrees.
Mitigating the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke during ITX 4-17 was a task requiring a full MAGTF approach. This includes logistical coordination of ensuring forward battalion aid stations are fully stocked with ice and medical supplies, coordination with the ground element to locate aid stations as close to troops as possible, and coordination with the air element to resupply aid stations and ensure a designated aircraft is on standby should expedient airlift be required.
“We created three task organized forward aid stations and posted them at separate locations around the base,” said Lt. Col. George Hasseltine, the 23rd Marine Regiment inspector-instructor. “Because of the bulk of the surgeons and other medical support we were able think though some of these problem sets a little differently.”
Reserve Marines will now sustain what they learned at ITX 4-17 and continue training. Many of them will gain further experience individually augmenting an active duty unit or through the Unit Deployment Program in which infantry battalions stationed in the United States deploy to Okinawa, Japan for six months. Either way, with ITX 4-17 complete Marines will return to their home towns and civilian careers having proven their readiness to augment, support, and reinforce the Active Component in a full range of military operations.