TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Artillery fire screamed through the air overhead. The impact was visible for the tankers and amtrackers, whose heavyweight tracks provided the brunt force of the attack. They watched in awe as the enemy vehicles were turned into dusty piles of rubble.
Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines, participating in Combined Arms Exercise 10-02, recently completed the Mobile Assault Course here. The warriors executed an infantry-strong offense Friday, moved into defensive positions that evening and counterattacked with a tank-heavy offense Saturday, to round out the course.
As the day broke Saturday, just another workday for these Leathernecks, everyone was already in their defensive positions. Military police from Combat Service Support Detachment-22 provided security for the low-altitude air defenders, the combined anti-armor team and Bravo Company Marines, 2d Tank Battalion, as they took out their objectives over the ridge.
According to Lance Cpl. David L. Brown, a military policeman, rear security is just part of what they can offer to the MAC.
"While the stinger missiles were firing we could have given suppression fire. Also, following the breach, our maneuverability makes us perfect for forward observation, route reconnaissance and security," the Baltimore, native explained. "It should be our role to provide safe passage for everyone else and let them know what to expect."
The MPs followed as LAAD and CAAT pulled back. The enemy was closing in.
The tanks pulled up the rear. Their treads allowed for better maneuverability and a faster getaway against the Mojave Desert's unforgiving terrain.
Everyone dug into the desert's hot, sandy floor. The soft earth parted as the mammoth tanks forced their way into a position where they could remain unseen, in wait of their adversary. By this time, the assault amphibian vehicles and their passengers were far behind the gun line and out of harms way.
Lance Cpl. Octavio Oyervides, an AAV section chief, said the training here has allowed him and his Marines to see what driving is like in the desert terrain.
"We've really tested these machines to their limits out here," the McAllen, Texan said.
Lance Cpl. Adam D. Cash, first time CAX participant, agreed.
"It's totally different driving here because of the mountains and the sand. However, with a team effort, the landscape can be a fun learning experience." The Houston, crew chief added, "The tracks have done great. The heat hasn't even posed a problem - for me or the AAV. It's a dry heat, not like at Lejeune."
Mortars, tank and artillery fire and 500-pound bombs, provided by the VMA-542 Harriers, annihilated the simulated enemy targets. Each shot on the mark.
The Marines pulled out of the area to regroup and assess any problems they may have encountered during the mission. After regrouping, with no reported problems, the warriors got the call - more enemy personnel were in the area, organizing a counterattack.
The Tactical Training and Exercise Control Group "coyotes" gave the warriors the enemy's new location. The fire support control team used the reconnaissance to call for fire and destroy the priority targets before sending the tanks forward.
The FSC team utilized everything in its arsenal. The forward observers called on artillery, mortars, helicopters and harriers.
After eliminating the enemy targets from a far, the tanks moved in, flanking the enemy on the east. The Marines superior skills and equipment again proved greater than their foes as the tanks cleared a path to the berm.
"The Marines combined their forces and performed awesomely," Capt. Thomas A. Garcia, B Co. Tanks, commanding officer, complimented. "They did just as they'll always do when given the chance. They got a plan and executed it on a dime."
The long, earth mound stretching across the battlefield was the only obstacle between the Marines and the remaining enemy soldiers. The AAV equipped with a mine-clearing line charge, capable of clearing a path of destruction wide enough for the entire force, pulled up to the berm's front. It got into position to clear the lane. The arm rose from the vehicle's rear. Mechanical difficulties with the line charge's rocket required a more conventional means of attack.
The armored combat earthmover was already in position - Marines are prepared for anything. As the FSC team called for fire, the lane-clearing beast prepared for a situation like this. The operator lifted the blade, opening the hatch to the storage compartment, which he filled with dirt. The ACE had enough weight to proceed through the berm.
The huge machine tunneled through the earth wall and pulled off to the side, making room for the combat engineers.
The engineers were the first through the gap. They marked the lane. As their AAV proceeded, their fellow engineers passed stakes from the back hatch, which they jabbed into the freshly turned earth.
More bombs fell from the sky as the Marines overtook the berm, however one piece of unexploded ordnance sat on the road between the Marines and their final objective.
Instead of staying their course and chancing injury, the Marines took a more rutted path over the desert floor.
Private First Class Lucas L. Taylor said the AAVs held up amazingly with the terrain. "We took a couple good, rough "bumps," but she held up pretty good," the Tulsa, Okla., crewman said.
The Marines arrived at their final objective, expending all remaining ammunition in-route.
"Every piece of friction was successfully worked around for a very successful MAC," Capt. Devin O. Licklider, a forward air controller attached to the B Co. tankers said.
The Marines did execute the MAC very smoothly, Capt. Jay D. Wylie, the TTECG combat engineer representative said. The Salem, Ore., "coyote" commended them for keeping their heads in the game.
"The Marines overcame, in spite of mechanical difficulties," Wylie said. "The engineers conducted the rapid mechanical breach very effectively."
The combined arms team will complete CAX 10, after months of training, and return home next week.