MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE BARSTOW, Calif. --
The railhead at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California, is playing a vital role in preparing for the largest Marine Air-Ground Task Force Warfighting Exercise in several decades.
Beginning November 4 and ending November 9, thousands of Marines from the 2nd Marine Division stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., will engage in an MWX at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, Calif.
Major Rich Charest, mobility officer, 2nd MarDiv, speaking at the Railhead Operations headquarters aboard MCLB Barstow, Oct. 10, took time out from his busy day to discuss his mission of getting the massive amounts of equipment to be used in the MWX from the east coast to the west coast.
“We have 335 railcars and more than 400 tractor-trailers to move more than 850 pieces of equipment from Camp Lejeune to the rail center at Morehead City, N.C.,” Charest explained. “It took from seven to nine days to load on the railcars and transport them to MCLB Barstow.”
Chad Hildebrandt, supervisor, RailOps, said the equipment totaled more than 21-million pounds or more than 106,000 tons of weapons, vehicles and the ancillary machinery to support the exercise.
The major had glowing words for the organization of the railhead.
“There is plenty of room to off-load and on-load our equipment, and the way the system has been laid out has made this aspect of the exercise much easier than expected,” Charest said.
Gunnery Sergeant Andrew Rhin, 10th Marine Regiment, MCB Camp Lejeune, and part of Maj. Charest’s command staff, said everything about this exercise including the planning, transportation and logistics so far has been a valuable training tool.
“The actual loading and unloading of the rail cars is giving the Marines more confidence in themselves and their equipment,” he said.
Charest echoed that sentiment.
“Even the youngest motor transport operator will learn from driving their vehicle in the sand or up dirt hills in terrain very different from Camp Lejeune,” he said.
“When the 2nd MarDiv deploys to 29 Palms, they’ll leave behind 20 personnel that will be taking our 14-day rail training class so that they’ll be able to upload the equipment coming back from the MWX,” Hildebrandt added.
“Our (role playing) adversary force will be elements of the 3 Commando Brigade (Royal Marines) and 40 Commando from Great Britain and the 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron from Canada and one battalion from the 1st (Marine Expeditionary Force) from Camp Pendleton,” he said. Charest noted that there would also be Marines of the Third Marine Regiment stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, involved in the maneuvers.
A statement from the 2nd MarDiv Communication Strategy and Operations Office indicates the planning for a large-scale training exercise has been in the works for years by the Office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
“MWX will test the Division’s ability to deploy and command-and-control large troop formations in a contested and denied command-and-control environment. The exercise scenario will simulate peer and near-peer threats and will highlight the Division’s ability to transition between offensive and defensive operations against an adversary with capabilities as advanced as its own.”
The main body of the force composed of 10,000 Marines and Sailors, have been flying into March Air Force Base, Riverside, Calif., since mid-September and deployed to either 29 Palms to bivouac for the upcoming exercise or sent to MCLBB to convoy the equipment from the MCLBB railhead to 29 Palms.
Charest said the redeployment efforts after the MWX ends would be about a month-long with the final elements of the 2nd MarDiv leaving California around December 5. The round trip via rail and road from Camp Lejeune to MCLB Barstow to 29 Palms for the training will be nearly 5,500 miles.