45 Commando Royal Marine Group decamped from their home at RM Condor to get fighting fit during an arduous exercise in the Mojave desert.
The searing heat and punishing terrain could be mistaken for the gruelling conditions of Afghanistan but the 11,000 square mile training area is instead home to 29 Palms, the United States Marine Corps and is the largest of its kind in the world.
With temperatures reaching upwards of 40 degrees, the marines headed deeper into the desert on Sunday to put to test the skills from the first six weeks of training in a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX).
“The marines are hardy souls but out here at 40 degrees the humidity, altitude, the sheer volcanic nature underfoot, is testing everybody. We have had people on the edge and it has pushed us to the limit.
“Some of the men are drinking 12, 13, 14 litres of water just to keep going,” said Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Dan Cheesman.
Unique to 29 Palms, the simulated battlefield amongst the rubble strewn Mojave hills, can withstand live fire from rifles to 81mm mortar, heavy explosive. Using all the arsenal at their disposal, the scenario included the United States Air Force (USAF) F16 fighter jets, who flew over the battlefield, dropping inert 500 pound bombs into the mix.
45 Commando are preparing to take over as the UK’s lead commando group, where they must be ready to move with only 24 hours notice.
“We will be in good state at the end of this training exercise to take on the lead commando role,” said Lieutenant Colonel Cheesman. “We will then be held at high readiness, ready to go at a moments notice out the door.”
Pegged as high-end Commando level warfighting the exercise is designed to help the individual marines improve to the highest degree.
“We are focussing on doing the basics brilliantly. That is what this training exercise is all about,” said Major Gill Duncan, second in command of 45 Commando Group.
Far from home, the marines have little down time but when they do, they huddle near wifi spots to catch precious minutes with their loved ones.
“I have seen my daughter, Ellie Grace for eight weeks in total this year,” said Sergeant Carl Noble. “I can’t wait to get home and see her and my wife Samantha.”
Our reporter Fiona Pringle was on exercise with 45 Commando and had direct access to the troops, pick up next week’s paper for a special feature.