POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, KONA, Hawaii --
Rain falls for 18 hours straight onto the rocky, uninhabitable terrain in the Pohakuloa Training Area while Marines rush to break down their combat operations center. Marines start before the sun rises above the Pacific, highlighting the hills and volcanic rock as it rises to meet them 6,000 feet above sea level on the “big island”, Kona, and they do not get any sleep until long after it falls behind the majestic mountains.
Headquarters Battery, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force traveled from Okinawa, Japan to PTA, Kona, Hawaii, for Dragon Fire Exercise 15-2. The exercise will take place March 3-13 to improve combat readiness and command and control capabilities.
“Dragon Fire Exercise is a regimental exercise involving the command and control of artillery live fire exercises,” said Capt. Robert F. Nicolai, the maintenance management and motor transport officer for Headquarters Battery.
DFX 15-2 is broken down into three training stages, a battery, battalion and regimental stage. 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force is at PTA conducting Spartan Fury, a battalion level training exercise that will phase into regimental control by Headquarters Battery, 12th Marine Regiment.
“During the battery and battalion phases we, as a regiment, are conducting our own internal training,” said 1st Lt. Michael E. Williams, the executive officer for Headquarters Battery. “(1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment) has a headquarters element that is in charge of their fires until the regimental phase.”
From March 3-5 Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment will control their own fires, as a battery, from March 6-9 the Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines will take over.
“Starting March 10, the regiment will take over and the forward combat operations center will control fires,” said Nicolai, a Beaverton, Oregon native.
The forward COC is an element that gives the regiment the ability to maneuver on the battlefield, according to Nicolai.
“When there is only one command element controlling everything and that element has to pack up and move, they become ineffective,” said Williams. “There is no communication, and they lose their ability to command and control. In order to avoid that, we break up the command into two elements; the forward and the main.”
Having two command elements allows for continuous operation, according to Williams.
“When the commanding officer wants to move the regiment, the forward will be sent out to establish a new position, which is considered a jump,” said Nicolai. “Once the forward is up and is able to communicate and control fires, the main can start packing and jump to where the forward is, that is the close. When they take over the new position, the forward prepares to take another new position.”
Headquarters Battery, 12th Marine Regiment conducts multiple jumps a day to increase efficiency in tearing down and setting up the COC in preparation for the regimental phase of DFX 15-2, according to Williams.
“We conduct moves, setting up the COC, establishing communication, troubleshooting fire support capabilities and our ability to manage the fight so once it’s our turn to control we don’t have any issues,” said Williams. “We’ll be working at a faster speed and will be more efficient than when we first started.”
PTA offers a large area for Headquarters Battery, 12th Marine Regiment to maneuver while 1st Battalion, 12th Marines conducts live fires simultaneously.
“PTA offers us space, which is something that is extremely limited in Okinawa,” said Williams. “Over the course of one day we can move over miles and miles of land. There’s more firing positions the regiment can fire artillery from. There are plenty of places for us to occupy in Okinawa, but the terrain extremely limits our training.”
Not only is Headquarters Battery, 12th Marines moving during the day, but they are also conducting night movements, according to Nicolai.
“If we can establish night superiority, it gives us an advantage over the enemy,” said Nicolai. “Rehearsing movements at night allows us to train as if we were in combat. It gives us an edge when we have the ability to move, comfortably, at night. Additionally, moving at night provides cover and concealment for us, and improves our ability to execute complicated things in the simplest manner possible.”
Efficient training is crucial as a training objective during DFX, according to Williams. But safety will always trump everything.
“The way we conduct training is centered around training precautions,” said Williams. “A good example is the secondary and tertiary checks that go into accurate and safe approval of fires. Internally, to (Headquarters Battery, 12th Marines), safety precautions include our personal protective equipment that we wear, setting convoy speeds during travel and ground guiding vehicles.”