BRIDGEPORT, Calif. --
It was a cloudy afternoon, but the sun still reflected off the snow-capped mountains giving 1st Lt. Elaine Lewis, battalion adjutant with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, light to check her roster for accountability. Personnel, packs, weapons, and motor transportation assets all had to be verified and transmitted back to the command and control center. At this point, V36 had been at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California for almost a month. They grew used to the thick, bright snow, bone-chilling wind, and constant need to change socks. One constant they could not become complacent with was the radio static. Radios must be watched nonstop; communication must stay consistent and fluid up and down the mountain.
The second field operation of Mountain Exercise 2-20 provided the most realistic training of the exercise. The line companies of V36 broke into individual platoons to go out, conduct reconnaissance operations, and maintain defensive positions throughout the mountains of Bridgeport. The opposing force, India and Lima Company of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2d MARDIV, also conducted reconnaissance operations and offensive operations. V36 and V38 stayed out for three days and two nights, and slept in dug-out trenches and four-person tents. They survived off of their daily rations of cold-weather meals, ready to eat.
Headquarters and Service Company with V36 tracked the companies’ actions with a forward mobile command and control center situated close to the Marines without interfering with the training. Setting up communications equipment proved difficult, but the Marines used the trees and rocks to their advantage. 550 cord kept equipment tied down and held wires taut for better reception. While maintaining radio contact is vital to any field operation, the mountains presented another obstacle for the Marines to conquer.
“Communication operations are always the biggest issue with anyone,” said GySgt James Watson, the assistant operations chief with Headquarters and Service Company, V36, 2d MARDIV. “We always have to ask ourselves, ‘how do we get communications and maintain it no matter where we are?’ We are always trying to push the most reliable source whether that’s satellite, HF, or VHF communications.”
V36 has been experimenting with different command and control variants throughout MTX 2-20, commonly referred to as main, forward, and jump techniques. By using these different techniques, they can bring the main hub for communication and oversight closer to the center of the effort. They started early, experimenting during the mobility phase and increased their decentralization through the company attacks, and employed similar structures during the final exercise.
Headquarters and Service Company pushed the command and control center deep into the mountain, embedding themselves to within hiking distances of all the companies. Radio connectivity was operational and constant. Despite this, the battalion largely practiced a decentralized approach to the field operation. The command of V36 took the opportunity to improve the battalion’s decentralized and small-unit leadership.
“Prior to execution, the mountainous terrain forces commanders to provide the level of guidance that is required in a communications degraded environment, and ensure that they have trust in that subordinate to carry out the mission,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Latham, battalion gunner with V36, 2d MARDIV.
As platoons maneuvered through the terrain, Headquarters and Service Company tracked their movements, personnel and logistic statistics, and any casualties. Radio operators communicated the information as it occurred to keep the command center as up to date as possible. V36 upholds their efficiency in radio communications through maintaining standards in radio etiquette and procedures.
Through the utilization of a dispersed leadership style with steady radio contact between the command and control center, V36 trained to be capable of warfighting excellence with any level of communication ability. U.S. Marines are known for their ability to execute effective small-unit leadership; it is a quality that separates them from other military services. Every Marine is trained to be leader with a warrior ethos.
“In the long term, the plan is to give company commanders, who will in turn give platoon commanders, more levity in the left and right lateral limits,” said Latham. “We will provide them the boundaries and mission and then just say, ‘alright leader, I’ll see you at the end, but this is what I expect to be done.’”