Plymouth-based 42 Commando Royal Marines have hit the desert sand running as they plunge straight into intensive hot weather training in the US.
The 300 Marines are feeling the heat in many ways as they cope with high temperatures in the Mojave desert in California, loaded with heavy rucksacks, weapons and protective gear.
Hot weather training enables the Marines to build on their ability as a high-readiness unit able to be deployed at short notice any where in the world, regardless of the climate and conditions.
The specialist amphibious commandos can operate in the harshest environments and for the next few weeks will be far from their natural marine surroundings to train with the US Marine Corps.
The Commandos are honing their skills at Twentynine Palms, home to the US Marine Corps’ Air-Ground Combat Centre – 932 square miles of sand, stone, arid hills and mountains, barren steppe.
The specially designed training centre includes a live firing range and the largest mocked-up Middle East village available. The village provides ideal space for firing highly realistic simulated rounds during urban combat training which contrasts with the surrounding wide open spaces and mountains.
The near-live firing uses ‘simunition’ – simulated ammunition; a bit like paintball, the round contains a small amount of blue or pink dye to indicate a successful shot. Masks are used to avoid eye contact.
Major Ben Halsted, officer commanding Kilo Company, normally based at Bickleigh Barracks, said: “simunition is a half-way house between dry and live firing. In a close quarters environment it’s as close as you can get to the real thing, down to the fact that it does hurt when it hits you in certain places.
“The pain factor is useful because once the guys have had a few strikes on hands and other sensitive places, they’ll get quite wary. What this is doing is blending the drill with tactical considerations; this will expose any weaknesses in their drills and they’ll learn very quickly from that.”
Apart from the heat exceeding 30degC, the Marines have to be wary of the sidewinder rattlesnake (whose venom can be fatal), various spiders. Keeping cool and hydrated is of the utmost importance with a typical attack seeing a Marine run and crawl through desert for 15 minutes with 40lbs (18kg) of equipment.
Colleagues from Lima Company were the first men from 42 Commando to get on to the ranges, spending several days building up to a live-firing serial which included throwing grenades into compounds.
Major Oli Coryton, commanding Lima company, said: “That was the culmination of three days of bespoke modern urban combat training and close quarter battle drills. We spent two days doing ‘dry’ firing manoeuvres – without ammunition – and then spent a day live firing.
“It’s been a really good progression; the guys have heard a lot about these ranges and what they have to offer. Actually getting in amongst it with the live firing simulates so much of what is real. It’s really nice to see the company drawing together; we’ve got a lot of new joiners including some reservists, royal engineers, signallers and medics so bringing that group together over the last few days has been great.”