MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, California -- “Trail High Point: 7,337 feet” reads a wooden sign atop a mountain. A squad of Marines briefly catch their breath and sip water, one of many items securely packed in their 75-pound fighting load. Many tasks remain before they travel this path back the way they came.
Marines with Alpha Company, Weapons Company and Engineer Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, began their Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity assessment aboard Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, California, May 5, 2015.
The unit’s arrival to MWTC comes after completion of the standards-based tasks conducted since March aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California. The companies find themselves operating in heavy change of scenery, trading in the sand and dry brush of the desert for uphill dirt trails, sky-high trees, running streams of water and even snow-topped mountains.
For the first several days, the Marines were briefed on basic knowledge of the new environment. They were presented the opportunity to explore their designated route and given thorough instruction of utilizing knot-tying and a carabineer, the two tools essential for their assessment.
“Hiking along these trails is beautiful compared to the desert,” said Lance Cpl. Jordan Osborne, rifleman, Co. A, GCEITF. “I volunteered to try something new. I thought this was a really cool opportunity that will not pass by again.”
Unlike their assessment in Twentynine Palms, which saw offensive and defensive operations split into two days, all tasks at MWTC are completed over the course of a single day. One day, the infantry-trained Marines of Co. A and Weapons Co. will step off, and the following day, the provisional infantry Marines of those companies, as well as the combat engineers, conduct the same required tasks.
MCOTEA representatives collected data through the use of heart-rate monitors worn by participating Marines, and overseeing data collectors assess each run-through.
The assessment begins with a squad of Marines donning a main pack of 75 pounds and stepping off for an approximately three-mile movement from lower base camp, along an elevating trail and ending at a gorge. From there, the squad is required to don Kevlar helmets and tie a military rappel seat around their waist, making a harness. With the assistance of the mountain leaders, or “Red Hats,” they are secured to a rope bridge and required to maneuver, upside-down, across the gorge, hanging 170 feet above ground.
“I was intimidated by the gorge cross,” Osborne said. “Ropes kind of scare me. It was the first time I have ever had to cross over like that.”
From there, squads regroup and traverse a short distance to their next objective: scaling a 40-foot cliff face.
Once again making their rappel seats, Marines step up to enter one of two designated lanes, secure their ropes and make their ascent. Working in crews of three ensured that one Marine ascending the wall was assisted by a belayer and a spotter, with his or her safety covered. Once Marines reached the top, they stretched their legs to a standing position and walked backed down, guided by their partners on the ground.
“A few people have a fear of heights,” said Sgt. Courtney G. White, machine gunner, Weapons Co., GCEITF. “But it’s a team effort and other people are depending on you to get across and continue the mission. (Climbing) the rock wall was not the easiest thing for me, but you learn to do it.”
After the last Marine completed their descent, the squad regrouped to hike back the three miles from which they came.
“In your lifetime, you only get a limited number of opportunities to be a part of something historic,” White said. “Being one of the first females to try out for a combat position was something I had to do.”
The task force is slated to continue their assessment aboard MWTC until the end of the month.
From October 2014 to July 2015, the GCEITF will conduct individual and collective level skills training in designated ground combat arms occupational specialties in order to facilitate the standards-based assessment of the physical performance of Marines in a simulated operating environment performing specific ground combat arms tasks.