Marines

In the field with Charlie; Youthful company attacks CAX, 410A;

1 Aug 2002 | Staff Sgt. Jason Huffine

In the back of a 7-ton tactical vehicle they joked like they were kids.

"I was the king of fire-watch," said one Marine as he joked and laughed about a recent deployment to Okinawa, Japan.

They all seemed too young to carry automatic machine-guns. They made fun of one another, poked jokes and even slapped each other on the back of their helmets.

Keep in mind these were no kids. These were the men of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. They were on their way to the Mojave Desert for a couple of days here to train.

According to the company first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Jose Henao, the company is the youngest he's led in the Fleet Marine Force. He said 92 percent of Charlie is straight from the School of Infantry.

The Columbia-born Leatherneck explained at SOI Marines are taught infantry basics. Here during Combined Arms Exercise 9-02, he said his platoon sergeants would teach them how to be effective.

Charlie exited the trucks one-by-one southwest of Range 410A as the sun cast
a Mojave glow on each dust-covered Marine.

"Platoon sergeants up!" shouted company gunnery sergeant, Gunnery Sgt. Jerry Blackwell.

"Platoon sergeants up!" responded the company's four platoons echoing through the desert.

Sgt. Randy Hawkins is 25-years-old. He is a single father of one at home in Jacksonville, N.C. Here, he takes care of 3rd Platoon.

"I don't baby these Marines. They are grown men," the Moss Point, Miss., native explained.

He said as a platoon sergeant he takes care of whatever he can for his Marines. He said he looks out for their best interest, gets them chow and most importantly leads the platoon on the battlefield.

Hawkins explained that although his Marines are young, you can't be fooled by their youthful appearance. He said they are some of the smartest Marines he's seen.

Charlie Company spent most of the first day preparing for the next day's range.

The platoon sergeants and their commanders walked through the range's rocky canyons. They spent the afternoon deciding how they'd breach the triple-stranded, razor-sharp constantine wire they'd have to negotiate their platoons through the next day.

They were not the only Marines making decisions.

Pfc. Lazaro Vega tasked the Marines around him to be aggressive in the field. He led the charge when it came to clearing trenches. The Dade, Fla., native seems to always have an "Ooh Rah" or two in him - even as the sun set and his squad walked on a combination of rock and sand back to Charlie's field command post.

Blackwell spent the night organizing and distributing ammunition. A grenade here, a rocket there; Charlie armed itself for the next day. He sounded reveille at 3 a.m.

Sgt. Raymond Barth led his platoon through the morning's activities. The Weirton, W.Va., Marine said for a young platoon, his platoon did very well on the range.

He explained that he believes momentum and unity make or break a platoon. He said the momentum CAX gives his platoon will decide how tight his unit will be when the platoon deploys with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in December.

"It's a learning prospective," Barth said. "That's what we're here to do. That's what is so beautiful about CAX. It's reality training without taking any casualties."

Charlie Company spent the next couple of days in the field negotiating range-after-range.

The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based warriors are part of Marine Air Ground Task Force 2. The company will return to Lejeune later this month.