POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii --
Gunfire rang out around riflemen as they sprinted up and down rollercoaster terrain, laden with lava rock and contorted, gray vegetation.
An Australian soldier bellowed at his men to run faster. They moved in squads, faces beaded with sweat and ballistic eyeglasses fogged up from the breathless advance. Live gunfire could be heard from every corner of the simulated battle space.
U.S. Marines with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, as well as Malaysian marines and Australian soldiers assigned to the 5th Royal Australian Regiment, partnered to train at the Infantry Platoon Battle Course at Range 10, Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 20, during the 2014 Rim of the Pacific Exercise.
The Pohakuloa Training Area sits 6,000 feet above sea level and rests in a valley between three peaks on the Island of Hawaii. Range 10 is a long stretch of tough terrain that leads into a series of trenches wrapping around a large hill.
“Combine the surface of the moon with Mordor and add a little bit of Mars in there, and you get a good idea of what Range 10 is like,” said Lance Cpl. Justin Oates, a machine gunner with weapons platoon, Lima Co., 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines. “It’s pretty hilly, there are giant rocks all over the place. It’s a lava field.”
The Malaysian marines were the first to “go hot” on the range and were guided by U.S. Marine personnel safety officers who walked with each squad and attachment, ensuring the range ran smoothly and without any safety violations. Next were the Australians, and in the late afternoon, U.S. Marines with third platoon, Lima Co.
Oates and his fellow machine gunners set up support by fire positions along the range, taking down targets ahead of advancing Malaysian marines.
Once troops made it through the trench system, they consolidated at a drop off, where they stood on the receiving end of a simulated counter attack and destroyed simulated bunkers with fragmentation grenades. It’s here where live-fire rockets are employed on tank targets roughly 300 meters away.
For Pvt. Dylan Baker, an Australian soldier assigned to the 5th RAR, the range proved difficult, but rewarding.
“Range 10 is pretty brutal,” said Baker. “The hills are steep and the terrain is rough. You’re sucking in air because of the altitude.”
When the Australians made it to the consolidation point at the end of the range, they were panting and soaked in sweat. Baker said that despite the conditions and the heavy weight an infantryman has to run with, “It’s all good fun.”
“I like my job because it’s always changing in the field,” he said. “I get to work with new people, working with (U.S. Marines), Tongans, Malaysians … it’s all new experiences that you wouldn’t get as a civilian.”
For Oates, working with the Australians and Malaysians was a good time to swap different stories.
“We trade a wealth of experience and knowledge,” Oates said. “It’s been a great seeing how they do things. The Malaysians are a good group of guys. They’re all extremely funny and genuine. Running Range 10 … They just took off and didn’t stop.”
Laughter echoed out among the troops as they made their way back to the range staging area after the range “went cold.”
“You get done with a range and the best feeling in the world is taking your flak jacket off and rolling your shoulders (out),” Oates said.
Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, about 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in RIMPAC from June 26 through Aug. 1 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in a series that began in 1971.