By MIDN 4/C Savage, Photos by MIDN 3/C Zhu
Fort Devens, MA-The lights of suburban Massachusetts soon faded into the dark treetops of Fort Devens, and the Midshipmen (MIDN) of the Marine Platoon were ready to enter the field. The pilots of our two Blackhawks executed a series of steep banks, plunges, and high-altitude climbs before dropping us off at the insert point. As soon as we were inserted and the helicopters had exited over our heads, we traveled with our assault packs toward the bivouac site. The platoon sergeant, MIDN 2/C King, made sure to keep us moving with intensity in order to set up our tents and maintain accountability for the two squads of four fireteams that made up our platoon. However, we were not alone in the woods. Several Midshipmen disappeared behind the pine trees after the Cadre simulated attacks and “captured” several of them. Security teams had to keep watch and find the “missing” personnel so that the platoon could safely finish the bivouac evolution before starting the real challenges of the year’s first field exercise.
By this time, everyone was accustomed to the dark tactical environment, and we were ready to step off on our 6-mile hike with rifles in hand. The squad leaders, MIDN 2/C Murray and MIDN 2/C Noviello, were constantly checking on the status of their fireteams as the heavy packs began to weigh down on our feet several miles in. Even with the challenge, we continued to keep each other motivated as we tackled hills and progressed back to camp.
The cold Halloween air eventually crept up on us after we had stopped sweating from the hike, but there was one more evolution to complete before resting for the night. Land navigation was the next challenge, and the wooded terrain obscured with darkness did no favors for the Midshipmen. Armed with compasses, the seven pairs all made it back after two hours traversing the course from point to point. We had earned a few hours of sleep and watch rotations every 60 minutes until morning, but the platoon had completed a good amount of the training.
Soon enough, the tents came down, even faster than they had gone up, and the Platoon had exited the bivouac site without leaving any trace that we had been there. Some managed to have a few bites from their MREs, but we were quickly moving to the final evolution of the weekend. The Fire Team in the Offense (FITO) training took our four-man units and put them through several missions in hostile territory, testing many of the skills we had worked on. The upperclassmen got their teams briefed and ready before navigating woods, swamps, and hills en route to the objectives. Always on the alert, we faced multiple ambushes and assaulted the Cadre positions until the FITO course finally reached an end. This last phase concluded our training for the weekend, and the cold, exhausted Midshipmen loaded up in the vans to reach the extraction site. As we waited in an open field for the Blackhawks, the Cadre took the time to build a terrain model out of sticks and stones, showing the Platoon how to thoroughly brief a mission plan. Before long, the blades of the helicopters kicked up the dust and tore apart the grass of the landing zone along with the Cadre’s work on the terrain model. Once again, the platoon was good to go and gone in minutes.