Snow, ice, rain can’t stop Thundering Third

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Marines patrol through snow March 6 during a culminating field event for Exercise Forest Light 14-2 at Sekiyama Training Area in Niigata prefecture, Japan. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Joey S. Holeman Jr.)
Marines patrol through snow March 6 during a culminating field event for Exercise Forest Light 14-2 at Sekiyama Training Area in Niigata prefecture, Japan. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Joey S. Holeman Jr.)

Snow, ice, rain can’t stop Thundering Third

by: Lance Cpl. Joey S. Holeman Jr., III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office | .
U.S. Marine Corps | .
published: March 29, 2014

SEKIYAMA TRAINING AREA, NIIGATA PREFECTURE, Japan -- Although snow, ice and rain created harsh weather conditions, it could not stop the Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, also known as the “Thundering Third,” as they put their cold-weather survival skills to the test.

Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members with the 2nd Infantry Regiment, 12th Brigade, and U.S. Marines partnered March 4-6 during a comprehensive training evolution as part of Exercise Forest Light 14-2 at Sekiyama Training Area in Niigata prefecture, Japan.

The Marines with Company I, 3rd Bn., 1st Marines, are currently assigned to 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, under the unit deployment program.

Forest Light is a semi-annual exercise, which enhances the partnership between the U.S. and Japan by solidifying regional security agreements, increasing interoperability of forces, and improving individual and unit-level skills in a bilateral environment.

Training in the mountains brought unfamiliar conditions to the Marines primarily stationed in sunny Southern California, according to 1st Lt. Samuel C. Carlson, an infantry officer and platoon commander with the company.

“(The training was) different than anything we get a chance to do at Camp Pendleton,” said Carlson. “Very few times do you get a chance, in the Marine Corps, to train in five to six feet of snow like (there is) outside right now.”

While training, the bilateral units worked through interpreters and used common military symbols to overcome the language barrier.

“Talking tactical tasks and movements (were sometimes difficult),” said Capt. David T. Fenbert, an infantry officer and the company commander. “But symbols and signs are a common military language that we share, so it was easy to understand what they were doing. They were very helpful in passing intelligence back and forth.”

The three-day survival and tactical cold-weather training took place in the mountains of northern Japan.

“The first day, we established an assembly area,” said Fenbert. “We built snow caves like the (JGSDF members) taught us in earlier training. We set up security positions with (them) and then coordinated with our (JGSDF) counterparts on the next day’s actions.”

The Marines and JGSDF members awoke the second day to heavy winds and cold rain, but that did not distract them from completing their tasks.

“The second day, 1st Company with the JGSDF moved about two kilometers to the south of us,” said Carlson. “They cleared two (simulated) enemy squads on the way. Then they set into a defensive perimeter. We later followed and set into an assembly area behind their position.”

While moving through the snowy mountains, service members were faced with sporadic and unpredictable weather.

“As we moved down, rain turned into heavy snow, which was challenging to say the least,” said Fenbert. “But (we) were trained well and pushed through it.”

On the third day, the Marines completed their final task and attacked a simulated enemy in the low visibility of a snowstorm.

“My platoon’s primary mission was to suppress a (simulated) enemy machine gun in order to allow third platoon to breach an enemy obstacle,” said Carlson. “It was snowing, it was windy and all the fresh snow was powdered snow, so it was really difficult to see very far.”

Training in a cold-weather environment did not just leave the JGSDF service members and Marines uncomfortable, but also presented problems they were not expecting.

All participants had to ensure they kept their weapons dry and warm, according to Carlson. If the weapons got wet, the cold weather would cause them to freeze and stop functioning properly.

The training was the culminating event requiring the use of all the lessons learned during Forest Light.

“I’m very proud of the guys,” said Fenbert. “They definitely worked through some adverse conditions out there. Not many of these

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