USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At sea -- As an infantryman, Cpl. Jeremiah Skaggs has trained in different places around the world. He has kicked doors down at the mock urban ranges in Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, trudged through the dense jungles of Okinawa, Japan, and climbed the snowy mountains of Bridgeport, California. Now, attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Skaggs is honing his craft at sea surrounded by the steel of the USS Bonhomme Richard.
Enhancing core infantry skills on a naval vessel comes with a set of unique challenges. Space and time are huge limitations for the Marines here who are accustomed to setting up shop on large ranges to get the job done.
“When we are on ship for weeks at a time, it is easy for Marines to be stagnant, so it is important that we train day to day and stay active,” said Skaggs, a squad leader with Weapons Co., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 31st MEU. “A lot of the training that we do such as fast-roping or live-fire deck shoot’s are perishable skills. If you don’t use them then you are going to lose them.”
The simplest tasks like eating, working out and sleeping are not so simple anymore on ship. Ask any Marine or sailor with a set of sea legs. Regardless of new routines, however, Skaggs and his Marines continue to execute their tasks proficiently.
“The stuff we do on ship is limited because we have to tailor our training to fit around the tight spaces, Navy personnel and other Marines,” said Skaggs, a Stockton, California native. “One of the things about being an infantryman is that you have to learn to adapt.”
Lance Cpl. Dushawn Lee has completed fast-roping and rappelling, live-fire drills, and ship to shore exercises during his short stint onboard the amphibious assault ship. Lee vividly recalls his first time sliding down a rope at sea.
“The first thing that goes through my mind whenever I look down and I see the water below me is, ‘don’t fall in,’ said Lee, a mortarman with BLT 2/4, 31st MEU.
Time gaps in the training schedule are uniquely called ‘white space’. Savvy Marines exploit these opportunities between exercises and operations to gain a greater knowledge of their job.
“A lot of us have gone through different schools like combat life saver course and winter mountain leader course,” said Skaggs. “Sometimes we have Marines who are skilled in one area teach it to the other Marines so that we can help can get them up to speed and learn newer things.”
In the past 15 years, the 31st MEU has participated in a multitude of military operations to include the clearing of Fallujah in 2004 during Operation Phantom Fury. The 31st MEU has also responded to several humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in Myanmar, Japan and the Philippines.
“We are forward-deployed and we have to stay mission-capable,” said Skaggs. “It is what we signed up to do and we are just waiting for our numbers to be called so we can do what we were trained to do.”
For Lee, deploying on ship is a unique opportunity for several reasons.
“It is truly a great experience to deploy on ship with the MEU,” said Lee, from Sacramento, California. “You get to see the ocean all around you, train in different countries and you get to do things a lot of people don’t get the chance to do.”
The Marines of BLT 2/4 make up the ground combat element for the 31st MEU and are currently participating in the MEU’s annually-scheduled Spring Patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.