Thick vegetation, near-vertical slopes, and a constant battle with the unknown are just a few of the many obstacles students face when taking the Jungle Warfare Training Center’s reconnaissance and surveillance course.
U.S. Marines with Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, attended JWTC Okinawa for a 10-day course Jan. 4-14, aimed at honing their mission capabilities in contested areas . This course is a small preview of a larger initiative of the Marine Corps Stand-in Force concept, which emphasizes lethality and survivability in austere environments.
“This course is designed to take Marines out of their comfort zone and create a mindset that will allow them to succeed in a Pacific jungle environment,” said Master Sgt. Matt Kearney, the chief reconnaissance and surveillance instructor. “The course is aimed at all means of ground reconnaissance. Employ them effectively to provide the Land Force Commander with situational awareness for decision making.
As the country’s focus shifts away from the Middle East, jungle-based operations have taken on a greater role in the reconnaissance and sniper communities. The SIF concept directs the Marine Corps to prioritize its operation as a lethal, low-signature, mobile team. This gives the force another layer of depth in the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance initiative.
“For the past 20 years, the Marine Corps has focused on a desert environment. We had the luxury of owning the skies with unmanned aerial vehicles that helped us with reconnaissance and surveillance, but that won’t always be the case here,” Kearney said. “When faced with a peer-level or near-peer threat, coupled with dense overhead canopies and limited visibility on the ground, the most effective tool available to our commanders is a well-equipped ground reconnaissance team. dragged with their boots in the mud.”
“The goals are to become a more self-sufficient and lethal force, with the ability to conduct longer operations while leaving a smaller footprint.” sergeant. Connor Claiborne, 1/5 BLT Scout Sniper Team Leader
During the course, the Marines received instruction to hone their skills in a jungle environment such as jungle medicine, land navigation, observation techniques, and communication devices. After class, the Marines conducted practical application of what they learned through different sets of missions such as area and route reconnaissance, as well as harassment.
Harassment normally refers to a formation where Marines are given one or two static targets that they must observe undetected, Kearney said. Teams would normally start at one location, progress to an objective and observe it, then sneak past undetected.
Emphasizing different techniques and strategies in a challenging environment is a major teaching point for the course. To do this, the instructors set up a 360 degree joystick. A 360 degree rod opens up the entire jungle environment for use, allowing Marines to minimize and mask a detectable signature.
“That jungle environment is a very distinct workout,” Kearney said. “Seemingly small obstacles can quickly turn into major friction points. Moreover, this environment becomes cold enough to make you uncomfortable and hot enough to make you wish you hadn’t come. So their mental toughness is also tested.
The Marines were more than willing to take the training.
“Just like in real life, a 360 degree rod isn’t just one route, it encompasses multiple targets that are a very unique formation for us,” said Sgt. Connor Claiborne, a scout sniper team leader with BLT 1/5. “Most of the training we received involves a static vantage point where the adversary only looks ahead. Here, both the targets and our teams have a freedom to maneuver that adds a whole new dimension to training.
Photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher England
To make the training more authentic, the course instructors served as goals for the students, changing locations regularly and keeping the students on their toes. This forced small unit leaders to make ground-level decisions similar to what they would in a real-life situation.
“The goals are to become a more self-sufficient and lethal force, with the ability to conduct longer operations while leaving a smaller footprint,” Claiborne said. “We are the eyes projected forward in a clandestine way. Showing that we can effectively utilize all of our mission critical tasks is key to building confidence, not only at the team or platoon level, but also for our commanders.
Currently, the JWTC is the only one of its kind in the Marine Corps and one of only two Department of Defense jungle training centers. Its courses train Marines and other services to thrive in harsh tropical environments commonly found in the first island chain. Not only did he teach basic jungle survival skills, but he laid the foundation for educating Marines to thrive and rely less on logistics, maintenance, and personnel support in a contested environment.
“We were fortunate to have the opportunity to attend this course,” said Sgt. Brenan Demerit, a scout sniper team leader with BLT 1/5. “This course offers us something completely different from anything we have in the United States. On the east coast you have swamps and forests, but nothing like here. You are in a completely new country.
Every aspect of the course has been designed to help units better prepare for future operations in a jungle environment, whether learning the basics of jungle survival or observing how an adversary performs targeting.
“This course is extremely beneficial and I hope more units will have the opportunity to attend,” Demerit said. “It helps us become more proficient in different terrain, which can only make us more effective against our stimulation threats.”