U.S. Marines train with South American counterparts

24 Jul 2002 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Fourteen Marines and one Sailor from 2nd Marine Division traveled to South America recently to participate in the Riverine Phase of UNITAS 43-02 July 13-28.

The mission of the exercise is to foster improved interoperability and relations with Marine and Navy forces from Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, according to Col. Richard M. Lake, the commanding officer for Headquarters Battalion, 2nd MarDiv.

"Headquarters Battalion has been given the task to develop and maintain a mobile riverine force," said the colonel. "The exercise will provide us the opportunity to learn from the various participating nations."

"We're deploying with a representative Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force staff and subordinate USMC mobile riverine force -- a total of fifteen people," he added.

Even though the number of U.S. Marines deploying is small, the predominantly Spanish-speaking group will train as it would operate in an actual operation.

During the operation, U.S. Marines will work with their counterparts and exchange ideas about topics such as small boat tactics, field medicine and basic first aid for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons casualties.

"It is always a challenge to operate in a different environment, but I consider it an art and a skill," said Lake.

The Marines will need to overcome several obstacles working in their new environment.

"We're not taking our own boats this time, so we're going to be working with the other nations' equipment," stated Sgt. Charles R. Crowe, maintenance chief for Small Craft Company. "Their boats are very similar to ours, but theirs have bigger engines. It should be pretty easy to overcome that though."

Crowe, of Carlton, Mich. participated in a deployment to Paraguay in 1998. He said he believes the biggest obstacle the Marines will face is mosquitoes, which feed day and night there.

Mosquitoes are transmitters of Malaria, which cause flu-like symptoms, such as headache, anemia, jaundice and even death if not treated promptly. To avoid acquiring the unwanted souvenir, the Marines received Malaria prophylactics prior to departing for Paraguay.

"The Marines are bringing bug repellant and mosquito nets to prevent mosquito attacks," said Crowe. "That should ease the problem."

Although the unusual environment will be a challenge, Crowe said he's anxious to begin training.

"Hopefully, we can learn something from the other nations and take that knowledge back to our units to share with our fellow Marines," he said.