« Machine gunner lands new job | Main | Marines in Afghanistan Weigh In on a Life at War »

Marines bridge the gap

New River sandbars offer good raft training

There's more than one way to cross a river.


June 25, 2008 - 9:08AM

The Marines of 6th Engineer Support Battalion transported about 15 military vehicles across the New River on Tuesday, using a piece of equipment that can be put together like Legos to form a bridge or tugged across a body of water like a raft.

The reservists used the raft option for Tuesday's exercise because the crossing was too large for them to build a bridge across.

"Most water features don't comply with Marine Corps orders," joked Maj. Sean Riddell, executive officer of 6th Engineer Support Battalion.

The river crossing was a small part of a larger exercise called Olympic Thrust. More than 1,200 reserve Marines and sailors are participating in the operation along the East Coast - the first time the 4th Marine Logistics Group has conducted such large-scale training for at least six years, Riddell said.

The reserve Marines train in their own states across the country, but training in unfamiliar territory as a large unit allows them to identify weaknesses and practice coordination and planning, Riddell said.

He compared it to infantry Marines who train in different locations and on different terrain: "They can't practice charging the same hill every week," he said.

Cpl. Ramy Abdelmassih, a member of Bridge Company B, based in Folsom, Pa., said the New River is very different than the Delaware River, where the unit normally trains.

The Delaware has a strong current, he said, whereas the New River does not have much of one but does have a lot of sandbars.

"It's good training for the raft commander," Abdelmassih said.

And working with other units prepares them for what they may face on deployment, Riddell said.

"The 6th Engineer Support Battalion is never going to go to battle on their own," he said.

The Marines have been living in a camp at Camp Lejeune, communicating with a command center set up in Atlanta.

The commander gives the Marines real-world situations to react to, Riddell said.

Tuesday, one focus was moving the vehicles across the river, as though they were moving a combat logistics regiment out of Iraq.

The difficult part is not the rafting itself, Riddell said, but rather controlling traffic so the rafts and vehicles don't get into a traffic jam - which could be a large target in a combat environment.

Staff Sgt. Jason Gross, near shore staging officer for the battalion, was helping make sure everything was moving as it should.

"It's a lot of moving pieces," he said, but everything was moving smoothly.

Capt. Jerry Kleber, commanding officer of the battalion's Bridge Company, said the main challenges for the Marines on the boats and rafts are identifying sandbars, doing reconnaissance of the area and making sure no boats got stuck.

"One of the key things is safety," he said. "It's like watching paint dry, but it's dangerous paint."