With nearly 1,000 squares miles of barren, sun scorched desert landscape in which to train, Royal Marines have launched themselves into Exercise Black Alligator.
Hundreds of Green Berets from 40 Commando Group have made the journey across the Atlantic to hone their war fighting skills in California’s Mojave Desert, an area that provides excellent training opportunities the likes of which are not available in the UK.
Black Alligator has just kicked off at the US Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Centre in Twentynine Palms. Over the course of several weeks the Commando Group will: undertake live firing with heavy machine guns and mortars; perfect their urban combat drills; and conduct a Battlegroup sized live fire Commando raid, whilst working side-by-side with their US and Dutch colleagues.
Next year will see the men of 40 Cdo take over the nation’s high readiness Lead Commando Group – a contingency force able to deploy anywhere in the world at very short notice – so training and validation of this nature is vital to ensure their combat readiness.
Black Alligator 13 forms the first element of a multi-environment training package the Group will undertake in the lead up to next May, which will also include specialist training in: Cold Weather warfare in Norway; Jungle warfare in Gabon, armoured vehicle, aviation and chemical warfare; whilst maintaining commitment to core amphibious tasks as part of the high readiness Response Force Task Group (RFTG).
Lt Col Alex Janzen, Commanding Officer of 40 Cdo RM, said: “We take over as Lead Commando Group in May 2014. As such we will be part of a self-sustaining task group, flexible and agile enough to respond to a variety of global events across a broad spectrum of operations at very short notice.
“The Mojave Desert provides us with a unique and challenging training opportunity that cannot be replicated in the UK. Its sheer size, 935 sq miles, enables the Commando Group to manoeuvre in a live firing, combined arms scenario in complex terrain, which is both cost effective and promotes interoperability with our USMC counterparts, and for exercise Black Alligator, the Dutch marines of the RNLMC.“
For the Marines, one of the biggest attractions is the realism of the Black Alligator experience, which includes scenarios and landscapes similar to those that the men may be expected to operate in.
Cpl Richard Batchelor RM, from Plymouth said: “Here we get to carry out realistic urban combat scenarios and live firing that we would never undertake anywhere else. We also get to practice, and mix, with the people we are most likely to go to war alongside.
“As an elite fighting force, we are specialist in a variety of environments, however this exercise has given us an opportunity to hone our training further, particularly in more conventional tactics, in a desert environment.”
Also taking part in Black Alligator is a cadre of 31 Royal Marines Reserves from units across the UK. Trained to the same high standards as full time Marines, the majority of Reservists have careers outside of the Corps and give up their time to support UK amphibious forces.
Marine Pete Madden, from Teesside, is on Black Alligator for three weeks before returning to Teesside where he is a Youth Worker. He said: “I’ve been a reservist for three years now and exercises like Black Alligator are ideal as we get a lot of training into a relatively short period of time.
“We are always kept busy and because we are fully integrated into 40 Cdo we never feel that as reservists, we are in some way different. We just get on with the exercises and all of the training we have received quickly comes back to us.”
Exercise Black Alligator will continue into November when 40 Cdo return to their headquarters at Norton Manor Camp in Taunton, Somerset.