FIVE HILLS TRAINING AREA, Mongolia --
Wolves, snakes, high altitude and steady rain that just doesn’t seem to stop.
Nine days of roughing it in the unforgiving Mongolian steppe isn’t exactly a stay at the Hilton, but it has provided troops from two very different militaries an opportunity to learn from one another, pick up valuable survival techniques and develop mutual respect.
U.S. Marines from the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Camp Gonsalves, Okinawa, Japan, are honing their survival techniques alongside Mongolian Armed Forces soldiers, Aug 4-12.
“We came out expecting to teach them, but we’ve also learned a lot,” said Cpl. Brian M. Ashworth, who has 11 months of experience at JWTC and is serving as the lead instructor for the survival course. “For example, the way they cook meat, and the way they preserve it to make it last longer, they already have solid survival skills.”
The survival course is a new edition to the Khaan Quest series of exercises, now in its eleventh iteration, hosted by the MAF with co-sponsorship alternating between U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. MarForPac is the U.S. executive agent for this year’s exercise.
During the training, three Marine instructors and 33 MAF noncommissioned and commissioned officers are standing up field shelters, making and setting traps, building and using field weapons, traversing rivers with rope bridges, patrolling, conducting land navigation, and learning first-aid techniques.
All of this is happening far away from any formal military classroom, and far away from any hard shelter.
The combined U.S.-Mongolian team started setting up camp in the afternoon, Aug. 4. The rain started falling early the next morning, and it didn’t stop for more than 24 hours. Bonds often form through hardship, and the Marine instructors took note when the MAF soldiers rebuilt their rain-soaked and smoldering campfire before dawn on Aug. 6.
“I see friendships, all the time we’ve spent together, we’ve gotten really close,” said MAF Senior Sgt. Ch. Batbold, a member of 330th Infantry Battalion. “(The Marines have) taught many things that we didn’t know, and hopefully they’ve learned some good things from us.”
The troops plan to breakdown the camp on Aug. 10, and begin a patrol to the river, where they hope to find food.
“We’re going to try to teach them how to fish, though they’re probably going to end up teaching us more,” joked Cpl. Evan Fricke, also an instructor with JWTC from Idaho Falls, Idaho.
The combined MAF-U.S. platoon is covering a significant amount of ground by foot over the next several days, setting up patrol bases at night as they move through Five Hills Training Area. They are scheduled to rejoin the rest of the field training exercise before Khaan Quest’s closing ceremony, Aug 14.
Until then, the Marines and Mongolian soldiers will continue to focus on picking up new tactics, techniques and procedures from one another, as well as surviving whatever the Mongolian wilderness sends their way.
“Hopefully we don’t ever get into a situation like this,” said Ashworth, from Bellbrook, Ohio, “but if we do, we’ll know what to do.”