Bulk fuel Marines build bonds with JGSDF counterparts

Bulk fuel Marines build bonds with JGSDF counterparts

by Cpl. Adam B. Miller, Marine Corps Pacific
U.S. Marine Corps

CENTRAL TRAINING AREA, OKINAWA, Japan -- Above the chaos created by the blasting of machine guns, the shouting of orders and the metallic clanking of bolts being racked, an interesting conversation develops.

This unique moment is achieved through the syncopation of a machine-gun team’s accurate and sustained fire when engaging a target, an occurrence known as “talking guns.”

Bulk fuel specialist Marines trained with medium machine guns May 5-9 in the Central Training Area during a quarterly Marine Corps common skills training evolution, while members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force observed.

The Marines are with Bulk Fuel Headquarters Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The Marines spent the week training and qualifying to use M249 squad automatic weapons and M240B medium machine guns to provide their own security in a combat environment. Additionally, two JGSDF second lieutenants observed the training as part of the Japan Observer Exchange Program, which allows JGSDF combat engineers to spend time alongside Marines with 9th ESB. 

For bulk fuel specialists, there is more to the job than just providing gasoline and diesel in hazardous areas of a forward position for sustained amounts of time. With fuel a major lifeline for the mobility of most deployed units, it is also important to keep it secure.

“The focus of this training is defensive machine gun employment for security,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Kyle P. McCarley, the company commander. “It’s important especially here in Okinawa, being forward deployed, because we’re often called upon with short notice, so we need to be ready for anything.”

Under ideal circumstances, the tactical fuel site would have a designated security platoon. In contingency operations, all units need to know how to execute the immediate actions necessary to defend their positions. 

“I think it has added a huge capability to the company,” said McCarley, a Thousand Oaks, Calif., native. “If we got called upon to go somewhere, we could employ our bulk fuel equipment, which is our primary job, but we’d also have Marines we could pull aside to be our security element. They would have actual training and qualification on (the weapons systems).”

For other Marines, the training also tested their leadership potential. For example, as a machine gun team leader, instant obedience to orders is vital to the survival of Marines during combat security operations, according to U.S. Marine Sgt. David C. Nicol, a squad leader and bulk fuel specialist with the company. A machine gun team leader also must ensure there is constant alternating fire between the two teams of machine guns when engaging their targets.

“It’s a cool experience to get out here and be the one in charge of this, making these guns talk to each other,” said Nicol, a North Vernon, Ind., native. “This stuff renews my motivation. It feels good to be able to take that leadership role.”

The experience was also gratifying for the observing JGSDF service members, according to JGSDF 2nd Lt. Kyohei Aikawa, a combat engineer officer with 2nd Division, 2nd Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Hokkaido, Japan.

“We want to take our experiences back with us to teach our (service members) what we learned,” said Aikawa. “We have also been able to discuss our capabilities with the Marines in the hopes that they may learn something from us as well.”

Aikawa’s unit in Hokkaido focuses primarily on engineer support capabilities rather than defensive measures, according to Aikawa. The JGSDF engineers observed training that was much different than what they were accustomed to.

“The JGSDF bulk fuel units are actually a part of a supply battalion, so they don’t really have much interaction with fuelers as combat engineers,” said McCarley. “As a combat engineer officer myself, I’ve been able to talk to them a lot about their capabilities and ours, so I think they’ve enjoyed seeing how diversely we train.”

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