CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Two explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) Marines, an Air Force EOD technician and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) specialist Marine stood around a manhole, peering down at a dummy with its limbs in unnatural positions – a simulated casualty that needed to be retrieved.
“Let’s put the robot down there,” declared one of the Marines.
“Will it fit?” asked the Airman.
“Good question… Do you have a ruler?”
They peeked up at each other, heads still down, eyes bouncing from one to the other in silence for a beat.
“We can measure it with my rifle,” declared a Marine.
“Works for me.”
And off they went, pooling tools and resources, attaching one of EOD’s TALON robots to CBRN’s multipod pulley system and lowering the robot into the manhole.
“I really didn’t expect them to put the robot down there,” said one of the scenario observers with a laugh. “But hey! If it works…”
This is exactly the sort of collaboration and innovation that the designers and supervisors of EOD Exercise 2019 had hoped to see.
“Every scenario can be reset and rerun,” said U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jason Hilker, an EOD technician with EOD Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group. “We aren’t telling the Marines how to solve the problems - we aren’t here to influence their decisions. We are only presenting problems. I want to see what they come up with.”
For U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Joshua McLeod, EOD Company’s design and control chief and the primary designer of this year’s exercise, the key words for EODEX 19 were integration and innovation.
McLeod said that when designing this exercise, he asked himself, “How can we train more efficiently and more effectively collectively?”
To that end, the roughly 350 participants in this year’s exercise came from all four branches of the U.S. military, including civilian contractors.
“The training has been really great,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James Ahn, an EOD technician and participant in this year’s exercise from the 718th Army EOD Company, 23rd Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Defense Battalion, 2nd Sustainment Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. “It gives us a chance to combine forces and see how each branch’s [tactics, techniques and procedures] are so that when we have to work together in the battlefield, whether it’s a known environment or an unknown environment, we can mesh together and there shouldn’t be too many hiccups.”
What participants said made this exercise particularly unique, though, was the integration of military occupational specialties from within the Marine Corps.
McLeod estimated that there were 44 MOSs training to their training and readiness standard during this year’s exercise.
“We speak about it all the time – train how we fight – but a lot of times we get stuck in our box of ‘This is my specialty, this is what I do and I train to this’,” said McLeod. “We want to take that a step further and introduce a lot of the Marines to the assets and capabilities that we have here on island that are true to form to how they would actually operate if they were out in the [Marine Expeditionary Force] or in the [Marine Air Ground Task Force].”
Among them were infantry Marines from the Tactical Readiness and Training Platoon from Combat Logistics Regiment 37, motor transportation operators and engineers from Combat Logistics Regiment 35, Navy corpsmen, and others.
With the variety of MOSs came tools and technologies that allowed the exercise’s organizers to make the training more realistic.
“Being able to actually report and run a lot of our systems on our actual network, on a tactical network, was key for us because very rarely do we actually have that opportunity,” McLeod said. “The other one was having the intelligence capability here. For EOD, a lot of the time, we drive intelligence and intelligence drives what we do, so in a scenario that’s not necessarily real, that’s hard to do. It’s hard to simulate. So that’s what we were trying to do.”
Additive manufacturing was another technology utilized in this year’s exercise.
“One of the problems that we had here, for us, as we pivot from a non-conventional enemy to a more conventional threat capability, is that we don’t have a lot of the training aides,” McLeod said. “I can’t just dig through a dumpster now and make an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] out of it. We have to actually have real-world training items to do that and that’s very difficult to do, and expensive on top of that if we’re getting the actual ordnance items. So […] we went with the additive manufacturing piece and we were able to manufacture approximately 300 foreign ordnance items scaled to form for the guys to actually train off of. Now they have those actual ordnance items that they could pick up, they could manipulate, they could manage, they could do recons on, and they could actually do their jobs with.”
McLeod listed off a variety of EOD calls that service members trained on during the exercise including anti-access/area denial explosive hazards, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel missions, mobility and counter-mobility, large scale disposal and beach defense over the course of five different sites.
“It was unique,” McLeod admitted. “It was more unique than I thought it was, I guess, because to me it was just Marines training at the end of the day, but everyone has seemed to take an interest in it.”
McLeod estimated that they had a total of 17 different units observe the exercise, as well as the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force.
Everyone involved agreed that repeating this sort of fully integrated training would be a good idea.
“Smaller-level training with other MOSs would be very beneficial,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Phil Mayer, an EOD technician with EOD Company, 9th ESB, 3rd MLG, who participated in the exercise. “I think we should do more stuff like this throughout the Marine Corps.”
“I think it would be beneficial again,” McLeod agreed. “But one of the things that I think you could do is downgrade it to more of a platoon level, and if you do that, it’s much, much more manageable. You could still bring the full gamut of it of having CBRN Marines, your intelligence Marines, your engineers, your infantrymen, your Motor-T operators and whatnot, […] just keep it down on a much scaled down version.”
By shrinking the scale of the operation, McLeod said you could really focus on the integral parts of what a platoon is and how those platoon functions are driven.
With his eyes already on next year’s exercise, McLeod said, “If we get enough traction from the requisite key players that came to this, I think that’s something we could look at going forward.”