The heavy blades of helicopters thud overtop of the thick jungle canopy where hundreds of U.S. Marines silently maneuver through the stifling terrain to gain a positional advantage against a peer-level adversary. Meanwhile, a platoon of Marines executes an amphibious assault into another remote part of the jungle – swiftly navigating through nearly 20 nautical miles of turbulent coastal waters, flanking the enemy, and immediately entering the fight to control the key maritime terrain. With sweat pouring silently down every green and brown-striped face, the Marines relentlessly battle against their foe across an island filled with mountains, mud, and dense vegetation where heat and humidity radiate endlessly.
These were but a taste of the scenes during the Jungle Warfare Exercise (JWX) spearheaded by 4th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division supported by elements from across III Marine Expeditionary Force and the Joint Force on Okinawa 24-28 May. This unscripted force-on-force exercise featuring more than 800 Marines operating in the field centered on the Northern Training Area (NTA) as its natural characteristics reflect much of the terrain within the islands of the Indo-Pacific region.
The exercise pitted two reinforced infantry companies against each other, one from 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, the other from 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, simulating a realistic fight across multiple domains against a thinking, adapting, peer-level adversary in distributed jungle and littoral environments. Marines from both units spent countless hours sharpening their skills in the harsh mountains of Okinawa’s NTA, moving themselves and their equipment miles over the jagged and thickly-forested peaks, and through steep and viscously muddy draws in the landscape.
The unique skills to be successful in this environment did not come to the Marines of 2/2 and 3/3 by chance. Rather, JWX displayed the culmination of nearly a year of training taking place during and prior to their deployments which enabled their forces to successfully execute what amounted to a complex, lengthy, and large-scale combat rehearsal for littoral warfare.
“All members of our team repeatedly practiced and became proficient operating in this type of terrain prior to JWX, which was a significant advantage in this combat rehearsal,” said Cpl. Justin Rohn, a squad leader with 3/3 and native of San Bernardino, California, who emphasized the value of training at the Jungle Warfare Training Center earlier in his deployment.
The exercise allowed both infantry battalions to showcase their aptitude to not only survive, but to effectively employ the skills and tactics required to gain and maintain control contested terrain in an incredibly unforgiving littoral environment.
“We train in austere environments, we survive, we sustain, and we do whatever is needed to win,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Long, current operations chief with 4th Marines originally from Thurmont, Maryland.
“This type of training reinforces our ability to capture small islands,” added 1st Lt. Matthew Cole, a platoon commander with 3/3 and Grant Pass, Oregon, native who led the formation of combat rubber raiding craft in the amphibious assault.
Integration with joint partners provided opportunities to incorporate specialized capabilities from the U.S. Army 1st Special Forces Group, U.S. Air Force 33rd Rescue Squadron, U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85, and the U.S. Space Force monitoring operations and providing feedback in support of signature management assessment. Support from elements of III Marine Expeditionary Force included amphibious reconnaissance from 3d Recon Battalion, logistics support from Combat Logistics Battalion 4, long-range precision fires capabilities from 3d Battalion, 12th Marines, and assault support and casualty evacuation capabilities from 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
“This exercise demonstrates that III MEF is ready right now to fight against a thinking enemy in defense of an island, incorporating littoral maneuver across domains,” said Col. Matthew Tracy, commanding officer of 4th Marines and seasoned combat veteran with experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Western Pacific. “We are creating the most strenuous, difficult, and demanding training environments to grow our warfighting prowess.”