AUGUST 19, 2016, BRADSHAW FIELD TRAINING AREA, Northern Territory, Australia – As the dust settled after thousands of rounds of ammunition were shot at targets on the foggy morning of August 18, 2016, Marines celebrated the end of the two week long Exercise Koolendong. The exercise took place in the heart of the Outback of Australia in Bradshaw Field Training Area, Northern Territory.
The Marines and sailors with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin conducted Koolendong, an annual infantry training exercise, with 4th Marine Regiment from Okinawa, Japan, 8th/12th Australian Artillery Regiment from Darwin, Australia and for the first time, the French Armed Forces New Caledonia.
Approximately 1,300 U.S. Marines and sailors, 100 Australian Defence Force and 50 FANC personnel completed a wide spectrum of infantry training activities to include live fire ranges, close air support, and a final capstone defensive live fire under chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear conditions.
“Koolendong is an opportunity to train as a Marine Air Ground Task Force in an austere expeditionary environment,” said Lt. Col. Steven M. Sutey, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, MRF-D. “We are focusing on our core mission essential tasks, offense and defense, in a live fire environment and among some of the harshest conditions.”
While the infantrymen made up the Ground Combat Element of the MAGTF, HMLA-367 took on the role of the Air Combat Element.
UH-1Y Huey helicopters were the primary support, taking part in several close air support evolutions, aerial command and control, armed reconnaissance, and forward air controller support for the Marines on the ground, providing the MRF-D with a full MAGTF capability.
“This training area has provided us a different environment to fly out of. We have the ability to work with different forces and bridge the gap between these forces,” said1st Lt. Steve “Woody” Vining, an UH-1Y pilot with HMLA-367, MRF-D. “When the Marines are working to achieve an objective we have the ability to protect them from the air.”
Throughout the two week exercise Marines destroyed several enemy positions and as the culminating event, the unit executed a battalion size defensive position, while working with the ACE for close air support.
This year, however, their unit added some extra flair.
Approximately 30 cans of CS gas were dropped into the fighting holes of the Marines holding defensive positions. While still sending rounds down range, Marines donned their masks and held the position.
The ability to training with CBRN in a live fire environment is limited, said Sutey. It provides the Marines with extra training we don’t get to do very often.
For the past five-months Marines and sailors with Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, have been conducting training with their Australian counterparts throughout Australia from Shoalwater Bay, Cultana, and Bradshaw Training Areas.
Koolendong will be followed by exercise Kowari, a survival exercise in the Northern Territory, which will conclude the six-month long deployment for the Marines, who will be returning home in October.