DURNESS, Sct, United Kingdom -- -- Remembering the past --
For the many Marines before us, and without a doubt, those who will follow after, one of the fondest memories of boot camp is that moment in second phase when we were finally given the momentous opportunity to fire a rifle.
I remember sitting underneath the hot Camp Pendleton sun, on what felt like a centuries-old slab of wood, its splinters daring me to move in any direction, internally jittering with uncontrollable anticipation. Like every recruit there, parts of my “old-man” body were infuriated from the constant bombardment of physical training and sweating... sweating in places I didn't even know I could sweat from. Sitting there, though, without so much as making a peep, something happened. Every recruit fired their weapon at the same time and then that smell slowly drifted towards me, silently lingering above me for a few blissful moments. That sweet, innocuous smell was just-fired gunpowder. From there, I knew I was hooked on things that go boom.
Now, without fail, every time I go to an area where a weapon is fired, whether I'm next to a recently discharged weapon or I see any kind of “boom” related situation, I'm immediately transported to that first shot on Edson range; quite like the childhood flashback of an old Anton Ego when he ate ratatouille that reminded him of his mother's own recipe.
And, just like Anton, I had that same experience while in Scotland for exercise Joint Warrior 18 when I embedded with a group of Marines with 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, Force Headquarters Group, when they performed their call-for-fire drills and when they took part in other enhanced training opportunities.
This year, 4th ANGLICO attended Joint Warrior to further their readiness and effectiveness in combined arms integration, small unit tactics and land navigation. This training aimed at specifically improving their interoperability capabilities, as well as their combat effectiveness to ensure they're ready when their skills are needed.
-- Coming together --
In and of itself, as the title of the exercise directly states, this two-week drill was developed with interoperability in mind; a jointness if you will.
Interoperability is a rather straightforward concept. Put simply, it's a measure of how various organizations are able to operate together to achieve a common goal. From this perspective, interoperability is obviously a good thing since it creates equal standards and enhances integration and cohesion among different countries and their militaries. This year, I saw how Joint Warrior emphatically brought together well over 15,000 service members from around the world to work together; specifically the 17 4th ANGLICO Marines and how they worked with a host of other firepower control teams from several countries like Germany, France, Spain and Sweden.
As with all exercises of this magnitude, there are inherent barriers that come into play. Whether it be in communications or differing customs and courtesies, each country attending knew this and accepted it. And, for 4th ANGLICO, who worked with several English and non-English speaking countries, I saw repeatedly that these supposed barriers proved to be a moot point.
-- Partnering to learn --
The mission of Joint Warrior is simple – to bring partner nations together through interoperability to increase combat effectiveness. With that said, the two greatest moments that adhered to that mission was when 4th ANGLICO was given the opportunity to take part in survival training and land navigation. Here, during survival training, I noticed how much ANGLICO truly realized what working together meant, what with having to build a shelter, start a fire and boil water, as well as getting hands-on training from British Army Staff Sgt. Steven Kelly, a survival instructor with 29th Commando Regiment, Artillery Battery, on how to properly kill, dress and cook a chicken.
Seeing the giddiness of the British Commandos' teaching 4th ANGLICO, and the reciprocated emotions from the Marines really brought to light how important each nation is to the other, regardless of the country of origin. As most Marines know, we have an innate ability in that we know there is always something to learn, and it doesn't matter where the lesson comes from. This gained knowledge and experience doesn't just make us better, it makes our unit more functional. And, as I would come to notice, some of that training would come in handy for their last exercise on a little hike.
A few days after survival training, 4th ANGLICO and I were finally able to experience the real side of Scotland's backyard... its mountains. Being stationed in New Orleans, I'm often times dismayed that our largest “hill” is a bridge we have to drive over to get to work. It goes without saying that the southern Florida based 4th ANGLICO unit has the same gripe as I do; it's actually flatter there. Prior to our 10-kilometer hike, 4th ANGLICO split into two groups, each with a guide from the Royal Commandos. Together, they worked out how to get from checkpoint to checkpoint. As with all things that aren't often utilized, like our legs during mountain hikes, we all suffered in our own way. There's nothing quite as radical though as climbing multiple 1,000 foot mountains and looking down at what you just accomplished. But doing it with a group of Marines and British soldiers who suffered along with you can't be beaten. As the English poet John Lyle said in his book, “Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit”, “In misery, it is great comfort to have a companion.”
-- Understanding it all --
After the two and a half hour trek, when we were all standing by waiting for our vehicles, something hit me – it doesn't really matter where you're from or what your story is when it comes to our brothers and sisters in arms from foreign militaries. If there's a task at hand, we utilize each other's strengths and weaknesses and we fight our hardest to accomplish the mission. As short as the hike may have been, seeing everyone smiling and interacting with each other at that moment, I was able to witness how much of a joint group we all actually are. We all knew that with this type of interoperability, we could accomplish our mission.
As a journalist for the Marine Corps, I've been given the extraordinary opportunity to travel to different parts of the world. In doing so, I've been able to see and document what it's like for my fellow Marines to interact with other countries militaries. As I mentioned earlier, there's undoubtedly going to be situations or issues where customs and courtesies come into play. What one country does as a compliment could easily be taken as an offense to another country. But it's quite clear that through working together, we are able to brush some of those differences aside in order to complete our tasks at hand.
Why is this theme of interoperability important though? Sure, we learn from each other. That's a given. True, we get to experience and learn new things as well. But, what I think all this really came down to was that we were able to form a bond and we were able to be seen. As Gunnery Sgt. James Sterling, the operations chief of 4th ANGLICO, said at our Warriors Meal, “It's not who you know. It's who knows you.” With 4th ANGLICO attending Joint Warrior, I realized how it became abundantly clear that through their shared bond and desire for interoperability and knowledge from the other countries, they'll continue to be known.