USMC 1979-83 Part Two

When we left off in Part 1, I was a young Private (E-1), serving as a platoon radio operator in 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1/1, in the 1st Marine Division, stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA.  My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was 0311, which is Rifleman (aka "Grunt") but I had been "drafted" as a radio operator.

Despite some revisionist history over the past twenty years, the truth is that the U.S. Defense Budget had started to increase during the last couple of years of the Carter Administration, although this increase was dwarfed by the huge increases during the Reagan years.

This was reflected in an increase in unit strength, increases in training tempos, new equipment, etc. My unit was certainly busy during the last months of 1979, into early 1980. We spent a lot of time in the field, as opposed to being "in garrison".  This was because we were getting ready to deploy to Okinawa for six months.

Marine Corps Infantry Battalions were true light infantry units, with three infantry companies, one weapons company, and a Headquarters Company, totaling roughly 1000 men. We had no organic mechanized assets, which means no trucks, no armored personnel carriers (APC), Amphibious Assault Vehicles, helicopters or tanks. The Marines believed in creating temporary combined arms task forces, that would have the appropriate units and equipment needed for a mission. This also meant that Marine Corps Infantry units were very versatile, working with lots of different units and types of equipment.

We got to ride in and do air assaults in CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters, which was a hell of a lot better than walking. We also got to ride in AAV7 Amtracks, and do amphibious assaults. We sometimes were hauled around in plain old 6×6 2 1/2 ton trucks (deuce and a halfs). We all else failed, we humped (walked).

The problem with these ad-hoc task forces was that different units, with different equipment, training and cultures were thrown together, and expected to work as a perfectly meshed team. This is difficult in real life, when commanders don’t always have any knowledge or personal history with their counter-parts in other units. Personally, I remember many occasions when our leaders (officers and staff NCO’s) would have some colorful, choice words about the ancestry and other qualities of our friends in the Air Wing, Motor Transport, AmTracks, etc.

The other problem in my mind was that the strategic mission of the Marine Corps in case of an attack by the Warsaw Pact upon NATO was to reinforce the northern flank, in Norway. This meant that our light infantry units could potentially have to face heavy Soviet mechanized and armor units. This would have been a very difficult mission, given our lack of heavy weapons and very small quantity of anti-tank weapons. The best anti-tank weapon in an Infantry battalion was the M47 Dragon, but we also had M72 LAW’s. If we were lucky, we might have some M151 Jeep mounted BGM-71 TOW missiles attached. If we were real lucky, we might have one platoon of M60A1 RISE/Passive tanks attached to an entire Infantry battalion. A platoon was only five tanks! This was the type of tank that I later commanded.

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